Published On: Thu, Jan 10th, 2019

They know where you live and will publish it

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!”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson was targeted by Smash Racism DC, which posted his address on their Twitter account.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson was targeted by Smash Racism DC, which posted his address on their Twitter account.  (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

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 GotNews.com 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, Va., 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has been doxed multiple times, as recently as after the Carlson protest — though some of the information shared was outdated.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.”

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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 emailed 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 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.

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“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.”

While doxing is generally viewed as something individuals do to one another, Chemaly sees it as an institutionalized problem: There are commercial websites that sell addresses, and there are public records that make them available for free.

When combined with social media and opinion websites, that creates a “nexus of abuse” — part of an overall lack of a “cultural commitment to protecting people’s safety.”

The simplest way to end the culture of doxing would be to somehow convince the doxers themselves that there’s no benefit in it. Some doxers, however, continue to believe the tactic works.

Both Megaphone and J. celebrated the fact that, as of press time, the Fox News Twitter account had not tweeted since the day after the Carlson incident, reportedly to protest the way Twitter handled requests to delete tweets with the host’s personal information.

“It was an amazing thing for them to say they’re not tweeting in protest of what we did,” J. says. “How does giving us exactly what we want protest us?”

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They know where you live and will publish it