Almost anyone with an internet footprint has personal details, often extremely sensitive ones, vulnerable to being dug up and exploited. If you've ever wondered what doxxing is, this is it — the procurement and online dispersal of people's personal information, often meant as intimidation or retribution.
It's worth brushing up on, because it's a phenomenon that's been looming pretty large in recent months. it's cropped up frequently throughout the Gamergate saga, with several high-profile women in the gaming industry, and even out of it — Supernatural actress Felicia Day was doxxed within minutes of authoring a blog post critical of the movement. For the most part, the doxxing stories associated with Gamergate have centered around people's home and business addresses being made public to the throngs, an obviously horrifying reality.
But sometimes doxxers reveal business and financial details too. This happened to Fez creator Phil Fish — he had his company's website hacked and full financials leaked after condemning Gamergate speaking in support of his friend, indie developer Zoe Quinn.
A doxxing attempt was also recently made against the Washington Post' s Caitlin Dewey, in an apparent attempt at retribution. Dewey authored a piece back in January about the culture of 8chan, the cavalier, child porn-riddled image board server home both to a major Gamergate forum, and an infamous doxxing and swatting board called /baphomet/.
Oh, yeah, "swatting" is another word you should know in all this — that's when somebody calls in a false police emergency using your address, in the hopes of causing a frightening or dangerous encounter with armed authorities. The folks at /baphomet/ just love this kind of thing — along with doxxing federal judges, as game developer and Gamergate critic Brianna Wu recently detailed for Bustle.
The courage to have a plain-spoken, unapologetic opinion is one thing. The courage to have it while your address is being handed out to a hostile hoard is another. By the time heavily armed police officers arrive at your home expecting a grisly scene, you can understand why some people feel reluctant to step in. That's the multiplier-effect strength of doxxing, and a big part of what makes it so awful — it serves as an implicit threat to everyone else.
These tactics are a pretty vivid illustration of the chilling effect online harassment can have, both for a random person's willingness to speak out, and those who're being inordinately targeted by online hate mobs. (If you're concerned about doxxing and swatting attempts, or just want to up the security of your accounts in a general sense, Zoe Quinn's Crash Override Network has a number of valuable resources and tips to stay secure.)
In simplest terms, it's all very harrowing. I constantly find myself hoping that sometime soon, we'll have to worry about these kinds of things less than we apparently do now.
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