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Dirty Doxxing

Tuesday, 10 March, 2015

There is a particular shroud of anonymity that one can enjoy within the confines of the online world. On the Internet, our true identity can be masked by a pseudonym, avatar, or profile page – all of which we’ve painstakingly created.

Through our manufactured persona, we can be cooler, more elusive, more present, or more forthcoming than we perhaps ever could in person. But while some choose secrecy to protect their career or private lives, others take advantage of the liberties allowed when going incognito.

Internet anonymity is often seen as a protective blanket under which scammers, frauds, and predators can freely lurk. They entice the unsuspecting, make their gain, and proceed to sneak away into the ether (net cables).

But do they really always get away with it?

There is a growing trend among web users that seeks to name and shame any bad behaviour online. It is colloquially termed ‘doxxing’. Urban Dictionary – the highly reputable online etymology database – categorises doxxing as “publicly exposing someone’s real name or address on the Internet”. It’s not always used for vengeful purposes, and is often similar to being a dibber-dobber.

As a member of a few Facebook networking groups, I have come across cases of doxxing. Dissatisfied people post on the site, naming, shaming, and warning against whomever they had professional dealings. At first I found them to be mildly humorous. I thought, ‘Hell, if these people don’t want to follow through with whatever online deal they made, then more fool them.’ But the more I became attuned to this very public form of professional or personal humiliation, I started to realise that it’s a lot more complex. In reality, it’s an Internet moral minefield. Not even the Internet, our most trusted and transparent source of information and communication, is impervious to moral implications. Whodathunkit.

Amidst my voyeuristic enjoyment of the doxxing epidemic, I had fallen pray to a dangerous assumption: that those who ousted potential scammers were telling the truth. I ran into this conundrum head-on while one day aimlessly perusing a Facebook networking page. Someone (who I won’t name, for obvious reasons) made an irate post on the page, naming the person who wronged her and giving a scathing review of his photography services. I read the comments below with intrigue, anticipating a chorus of agreement or compiling accusations, as is typical with the doxxing on this site. But this time it was different. About 50 outraged comments deep and there he was: the named scammer. Defiant in the face of injustice, the apparent “scam artist” attempted to set the story straight. He’d taken screen shots of their communication and posted them as evidence.

At first I got a kick out of the ensuing argument, watching the to-and-fro of a petty online debate as though I have absolutely nothing better to do with my summer holidays. But after realising that the poor guy had genuinely done nothing wrong, it became obvious that there was something much more vindictive at play. It turns out that the girl who originally made the post was mad because her self-portraits weren’t as pretty as she’d hoped. Adding insult to injury, she was also still incensed from when he rejected her offer to go for drinks after the shoot. Whoops.

I realised just how much is at stake for some people who suffer at the hands of wrongly accused doxxing. Victims are rarely given the opportunity to undo claims made against them, making the effects of doxxing particularly volatile and potentially damaging.

From that point, my innate trust in the people doxxing was torn to shreds, along with whatever morbid fascination I had with Facebook networking groups and their obsession with naming and shaming. Even in cases where I’d be more likely to believe the person making the claim I’m still wary. After all, in the cutthroat world of online transactions, what really makes the accuser more trustworthy than the accused?