Late last night I posted about Doxing. The lawsuit I surmised was at least partially about doxing Paul Krendler is dead. You can read Judge Blake’s order in full on Hogewash! Rereading the post, it is clear that I got caught up in a specific case about Doxing and didn’t really explain the issue of why Doxing is good or bad.
Ultimately Doxing is about exposing personally identifiable information about a person or persons on the Internet. Sometimes, as in the case of White Hat Doxing, the intention is to embarrass someone who is doing rude, crude and socially unacceptable things on the internet to shaming. For example, say an upstanding member of society is secretly also trying to host revenge porn, that might be viewed by some as White Hat Doxing.
But White Hat and Black Hat Doxing is all about putting sensitive and private information about a person out to as large an audience as possible. Some claim it is for journalistic endeavors, but I have worked in the news business on and off for nearly 20 years, and I can’t recall any local or national station or paper revealing a newsworthy subject’s home address, work address, phone numbers, spouse’s work numbers, children’s names and more unless it directly and indisputably supported the story. Usually “legitimate” news sources are much more circumspect about such sensitive information.
For example, A is accused of murdering B in B’s south side home. That gives plenty of details and there is no need to reveal the exact address. It might be mentioned that A was employed at B’s Computer Design Firm “X”, but the phone number is irrelevant.
To make a data dump of all this personal information is really not something real journalists would do. It would undermine their authority and respectability. And threatening to Dox someone, or reveal entire family personal data, to obtain a comment would make future sources even less likely to come forward. So I don’t buy the concept that Doxing could ever serve real journalistic aims.
Instead, Doxing is designed not to be a journalist, but to be a harasser. It is the most vile type of harassment I can think of, since the intention is not for the person Doxing to actively harass, but to know that there is a minority of people who will start to harass the individuals exposed. I’m not saying a journalist wouldn’t gather all the information I’m talking about. They do. But they don’t publish any more than is required to tell the story.
A great real world example of what I’m talking about is the George Zimmerman case. News media around the country knew exactly where Zimmerman lived. They didn’t publish it, because his home address wasn’t relevant to the case. Actress Roseanne Barr thought it was a vital bit of information, and tweeted the address to her followers. Barr is well known as an anti-gun activist, and needless to say a minority of her followers took it upon themselves to call up and harass the Zimmermans, including threats of violence. The Zimmermans had to flee their home as a result. A lawsuit in that case has been filed.
I don’t think anyone could argue that Barr acted in good faith as a journalist in tweeting that information. I think it is reasonable to assume that she released that information with the hope that her followers would do exactly what they did. I won’t go into the morality of a anti-gun violence advocate using threats of violence against a family. Even if you find George Zimmerman repulsive, there is no need to bring his innocent parents to the point of death threats and threats of violence.
This is why the Society of Profession Journalists have, in the code of ethics, an entire section entitled Minimize Harm. The gist of the section is basically don’t be an asshole. The fact that you know something doesn’t make it newsworthy or relevant. Journalist are expected to handle subjects with dignity and care. That’s not to say that aren’t supposed to tell the truth, but they don’t have to tell ever tiny tidbit of truth.
If Doxing were the journalistic norm, imagine what every news story would read like. Bob Smith is suspected of Murder by the Morgan County Sheriffs Department. Smith is 6’4″ tall, weighs 320 pounds and has dark curly hair. Smith suffers from alcoholism, narcotics addiction and gambling addiction. Smith lives in a white and yellow rancher found at 123 Main Street. He is employed by Madison Metal Works which is located at 456 1st Street and can be reached at 123-555-4242. He is married to Jane Smith, who is 5’8″, weighs 136 pounds and has long blonde hair. Their home phone number is 123-456-7890. Mrs. Smith is currently employed at the 401(c)3 charity Godly Overtures of Fatherhood. Their number is 123-555-6969. They have two children, Heather, 10, and Rebecca, 8. The children attend school at Yuck Fu Elementary school. Heather, who is 4’9″ and has wavy black hair, plays softball for the Yuck Fu Ninjas while Rebecca attends dance class at Jillian’s School of Dance studying Tap and Hip Hop. The murder took place….
I think you get the picture.
Journalists don’t do that. Because it causes harm. First, Bob hasn’t been convicted of anything, yet. So revealing all this information is willfully putting his family at risk and under scrutiny for something they are not accused of doing. Journalist would never identify children who were not central to the story, and even then most likely wouldn’t considering their age. This just isn’t how journalist operate.
So I guess it is safe to say I don’t hold with the argument that doxing someone is a journalistic endeavor and is instead a form of social shaming at best and outright harassment at worse. And people who engage in this activity should be ashamed of themselves.