Doxxing is the collection and publishing of someone’s private information online, usually done with the intent of inciting harassment in real life. While not technically illegal, it’s considered harassment by most people, and there have been bills proposed to make it a crime.
Do I Have to Worry About It?
Probably not. Doxxing is generally a targeted abuse, similar to harassment in real life, and unless you’ve got a target on your back, you’re probably safe. It normally affects famous people—particularly Internet famous people, such as live streamers, YouTubers, and social media celebrities. Since many of them go by an online alias, revealing their real name is a major violation of privacy. Having your name, phone number, and address posted online leaves you vulnerable to real crimes, like swatting, physical harassment, and stalking.
While you might not have to worry as much if you have a small Internet presence, these days you can very quickly go viral for all the wrong reasons. Political debates, in particular, are a hot topic on sites like Twitter and Facebook (where your personal information likely already resides), and one wrong word can trigger a wave of hate from whoever disagrees with you.
Occasionally, people dox for other reasons, like in 2013 when Reddit accidentally accused the wrong person of being the Boston Bomber. He wasn’t the bomber; he was a victim who had died in the incident, but his family had to deal with droves of angry people until the real suspect was found. This form of Internet vigilantism seems justifiable to the people doing it, which makes it spread much quicker and arguably makes it more dangerous.
How To Protect Yourself
The large majority of doxxing incidents are just people collecting your personal information from social media sites, not any actual computer hacking. It’s hard to stop it from happening because people generally share way too much info freely online, and even relatively private people could fall victim to it.
For example, even if you’ve got your birthday hidden on your Facebook profile, people can find it out just by scrolling down your timeline and looking for “Happy birthday! Finally able to hit the bars!” posts. Once they know exactly when you were born, they can more easily access data on other sites. But, while hiding your birthday publicly won’t stop Internet Sherlock Holmes from finding your info, it will stop lots of nosy people, so it’s best to keep it private.
Realistically though, hiding all of your personal information and becoming anonymous goes against the point of social media. Sure, it makes sense never to post your address, phone number, or birthday online, but people can infer a lot about you based on seemingly innocuous posts—even little details like where you work.
Deleting old posts and making sure to be careful in the future is an option, or you could go nuclear and delete your social media accounts altogether, but most people won’t be bothered to do so. And remember, most people don’t have to worry much about this in the first place. Just please don’t post your debit card online.