The dan­gers of ‘dox­ing’

Pub­lish­ing peo­ples’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion has be­come a pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal tool


Over the past few years, ‘dox­ing’ — pub­lish­ing pri­vate in­for­ma­tion about peo­ple on­line, gen­er­ally with the in­tent of threat­en­ing them — has be­come part of the un­der­belly of pol­i­tics. Most re­cently, the prac­tice was in the news in Wash­ing­ton when a lo­cal ac­tivist group called Smash Racism DC doxed Fox News host Tucker Carl­son on the group’s Twit­ter ac­count. Twit­ter took down the tweet and sus­pended the ac­count hours later — but that same evening, more than a dozen demon­stra­tors af­fil­i­ated with the group ar­rived out­side Carl­son’s D.C. home. “Tucker Carl­son, we will fight!” they chanted, ac­cus­ing the host of spread­ing fas­cism and racism.

“We know where you sleep at night!”

Hav­ing one’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion laid bare on the in­ter­net is a fright­en­ing prospect — so un­set­tling that at least some dox­ers, iron­i­cally, refuse to put their own names out in pub­lic.

One of the pro­test­ers who held a mega­phone out­side Carl­son’s house — and whom I’ll re­fer to as Mega­phone — and an­other one who iden­ti­fied him­self as J., told me they would speak only on the con­di­tion of anonymity, cit­ing the on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the protest, as well as the fear of be­ing doxed.

In the eyes of the anti-fas­cists, re­leas­ing Carl­son’s ad­dress was part of a larger dox­ing war be­tween right and left. For in­stance, the now-de­funct right-lean­ing site pub­lished the ad­dresses of more than 200 ar­rested In­au­gu­ra­tion Day pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Smash Racism DC, after a spokesper­son for D.C. po­lice re­leased the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion in re­sponse to a me­dia re­quest.

On the other side of the spec­trum, after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Char­lottesville, so­cial me­dia users iden­ti­fied many of the par­tic­i­pants who bore tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not re­place us! Blacks will not re­place us!” Some of them sub­se­quently lost their jobs.

Mega­phone told me that he him­self has been doxed mul­ti­ple times, as re­cently as after the Carl­son protest — though some of the in­for­ma­tion shared was out­dated. He doesn’t know who started it but saw dozens of peo­ple pub­lish­ing his per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on­line.

“It’s de­signed to make you feel on edge,” he says.

“They were shar­ing my ad­dress from about five, six, seven years ago. Imag­ine some right-winger goes to that house to yell at me. They’re yelling at some random fam­ily, or maybe even shoot­ing them.”

So why is that ob­jec­tion­able to do to him, but OK to do to Carl­son’s fam­ily?

“I am a pri­vate cit­i­zen,” he says. “I am some­one who has as much po­lit­i­cal power as any other work­ing-class per­son ... Carl­son is fa­mous, and a few weeks be­fore, he laughed at the bombs that were sent to his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.”

Carl­son wrote, in part, in an e-mailed state­ment that “the sug­ges­tion that my wife and four kids de­served this be­cause some peo­ple dis­agree with what I say on tele­vi­sion is dis­gust­ing.”

He called this story an at­tempt to “jus­tify threats against my wife and chil­dren.”

An­drew Zolides, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of dig­i­tal me­dia at Xavier Univer­sity, notes that dox­ing is “not re­ally on a spe­cific

The sug­ges­tion that my wife and four kids de­served this be­cause some peo­ple dis­agree with what I say on tele­vi­sion is dis­gust­ing.” Fox News host Tucker Carl­son

side of a po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. It’s be­ing used across the board. That’s the fear for me: It be­comes fair game for ev­ery­one be­cause we’ve opened that box.”

He points to Gamer­gate as an early case in which dox­ing be­came part of the pub­lic con­scious­ness.

In the sum­mer of 2014, the ad­dresses and phone num­bers of some pro­gres­sive women in the video game in­dus­try were pub­lished, and they faced death threats and tar­geted harass­ment at the hands of anony­mous trollers.

So­raya Che­maly, the di­rec­tor of the Women’s Me­dia Cen­ter Speech Project, a New York non-profit that works to raise the vis­i­bil­ity of women and girls in me­dia, says that while both men and women are bul­lied on­line, the im­pacts on women can be more con­se­quen­tial:

“It’s very dif­fer­ent to get an email that says, ‘You’re stupid’ than see­ing an email of your face get­ting pasted onto a gang rape scene and it says, ‘I know where you live.’”

Many of the peo­ple pro­mot­ing Gamer­gate, such as Milo Yiannopou­los and Mike Cer­novich, have since be­come prom­i­nent mem­bers of the alt-right — the kind of fig­ures that anti-fas­cists tar­get for dox­ing.

“There are a lot of peo­ple who say the pow­er­less don’t have a lot of tools ... and dox­ing is a pow­er­ful tool, but dox­ing is a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous tool,” says Kalev Lee­taru, a me­dia fel­low at the Real Clear Foun­da­tion and an ex­pert on dig­i­tal net­works and big data.

“It’s re­ally a form of very per­son­al­ized harass­ment,” he notes.

“You don’t get to say, ‘Hey, dox­ing can only be used for neo-Nazis.’ Racists will do the ex­act same thing in re­verse.”


Tucker Carl­son was ‘doxed’ by an ac­tivist group that pub­lished the out­spo­ken Fox News host’s home ad­dress.

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