The inverted ethics of doxxing?

Came across this word “doxxing” lately. According to Wikipedia it refers to “the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual.” My introduction to this new word was in a discussion of the ethics of identifying people who troll on social media sites.


Credit: Curiosmatic

I can understand why some people must protect their identity when commenting on social media. Whistle blowers, etc., are obvious – but even seemingly mundane topics may need some anonymity because of jobs, etc.

But, apart from jobs, I can never understand those people who insist on anonymity when discussing scientific knowledge. Surely that immediately undermines their credibility – especially when they confront, or abuse, other commenters who have no trouble identifying themselves.

In my experience it is the anonymous commenter who tends to be the most abusive. So, why should ethical concerns about doxxing give free rein to the internet bully? I find myself sympathising with PZ Myers comment on this topic in his recent post The inverted ethics of the internet.

“It seems to me that there is a significant difference between maintaining internet anonymity to prevent being harassed, vs. anonymity used to enable harassment. But this distinction is routinely ignored, especially by the harassers, who just lump violating either into the category of the most sacrilegious of all internet violations, the total desecration of the holiest principle of all communication, doxxing. I suspect the only reason that “doxxing” has been elevated to such a sacred level of knee-jerk abhorrence is not out of some virtuous desire to protect the innocent, but entirely to protect the guilty.”

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12 responses to “The inverted ethics of doxxing?

  1. If your name is distinctive your postings may reflect back on your relatives who may have to explain to friends they do not hold your ideas.


  2. Why should this be different to normal discourse?

    Do you refuse to express an opinion to a mate becasue a relative of yours holds a contrary view?

    That would make you a whimp, wouldn’t it?


  3. No but if I don’t know whether employers may be listening I take more care.


  4. It’s not quite as bad as the days of McCarthyism, is it? We can’t really know.

    Would my anti-antiMuslim comments stop my brother getting a passport? Security agents are people and may be swung by the look of names.

    I don”t really set out to hide my ID. Also a modicum of paranoia tells me that if I express anti-establishment views I may even be safer if I use my actual name, if in the future John Key’s words, stating the exponential increase in people “tapping in” to various social media, mean he is in business to stamp stuff out.

    If you want people to use their real name there must be an option on WordPress to require that.


  5. I can certainly think of any number of legitimate reasons people might not want to post under their own name, even if direct harassment or threats to life and limb are not a consideration. In this day and age, it’s very easy for, say, prospective employers to do a bit of digging on the web and find information you’d really rather not go into the decision-making process. I do think anonymity on the web is a right (though I’m not a believer in absolute rights, so I’d also be open to being convinced certain exceptions should apply).

    That said, it’s a right which requires moderation by site administrators. If somebody’s using their anonymity to bully or harass other people, then that should be grounds for banning. I’m not a great believer in allowing trolls to run wild. They can be as anonymous as they like, but if they want to engage in conversation over social media, they ought to have to do so in a civilised fashion. Alas, moderation frequently falls short of this ideal.

    None of which, of course, addresses behind-the-scenes harassment. Private messages, email and so forth. You get some truly vile stuff when people are anonymously communicating outside of the public view.


  6. We know of at least 4 instances of death threats to pro-fluoridation activists. I know pro-fluoridation advocates who carry concealed weapons after frightening encounters with opponents.

    My personal experience suggest there is an intensity of emotion at least equivalent to that of abortion politics.

    I have been accused of promoting fluoridation so that I would personally profit from the resulting increased numbers of cancer cases, Many have angrily stated I personally was creating a real and present danger to a loved ones. Awaiting a council chambers opening a couple became very angry because myself and a dental hygienist were part of a world-wide conspiracy seeking to depopulate the world and harm the little baby they carried. That was my first knowledge about that paranoid theory promoted by Jesse Ventura and others.

    I was slow to clearly understand that those shouting these accusations ACTUALLY believe them.

    It is good for our side to meditate a bit on how one would feel if you truly believed the insanity we constantly face from fluoridation opponents. Frankly, I’m thankful we have not had an assassination like that which befell a US obstetrician who performed abortions.

    On occasion when the impact of a statement merits it, I use my actual name and degree but in general, out of respect for the safety of my family and myself use a pseudonym.

    Individuals who harass, abuse, and annoy in my opinion are unlikely to persuade any undecided citizen, the real target of all the work we do to sway opinion. Thoughtful, scientifically based comments with peer reviewed references will inform those willing to hear despite a nom de plume.


  7. Frankly, I’m thankful we have not had an assassination like that which befell a US obstetrician who performed abortions.

    Sadly, it wasn’t isolated, there have been several instances.


  8. I’ve used the same nom for years now. It’s become a sort of personality in it’s own right. I tried using my real name a few times and it just felt awkward and constrained so I carry on with RedLogix out of habit. (Often I wish I had picked a cooler name. At the time it was an off-the-cuff registration and I had no idea it would stick.)

    Besides whenever you apply for a job they google on your name. No thanks.


  9. I have no objection in principle to people using a non de plume on line and can understand the range of legitimate reasons why an innocent persons would do this.

    But I object strongly to cowards who hide behind non de plumes while bullying, slandering and attacking innocent people. Or even people who will make serious claims of fraud, of being a shill, etc., while hiding in this way.

    Beyind that I have no strong feelings. There is the question of credibility as it is harder to see an anonymous person as an authority. In fact, where someone may be giving expert advice I think it is expected that they don’t do this anonymously. This, of course, does not mean the less expert person needs to provide personal details just to have the comment considered.

    Many employers are unhappy about staff getting involved in public debate – another reason for anonymity. But where people participate honestly, rationally and moderately I really cannot see why they should feel the need to hid this from prospective employers.

    Of course, Internet debate tends to get out of hand so I can understand one can often feel a bit ashamed and wish not to be publicly connected with rash comments.


  10. I’m amazed that most people think their names are so unique and will identify them to nosey employers etc. Without spending any effort I’ve come across at least two others sharing my name within the small population of NZ. Good luck to anybody desperate (and sad) enough to discriminate on basis of internet forum comment of uncertain origin, who’d want to work for such people anyway.


  11. I’m sorry, Richard, is that an indication that you think there’s no such thing as online vetting? Because it’s been going on for a fair while now. For example:

    Plainly, employers are quite capable of identifying people’s social media accounts based on the information they acquire during the employment application process.

    As for the “who’d want to work for them anyway,” bit, some people don’t actually get to pick and choose which employer they work for. Given a choice between working and, you know, not working, most of us, I like to think, would prefer to work. For reasons of income, self-esteem and so forth. In an ideal world, where there was no cost to us involved, we might be quite happy for an employer to knock themselves out of the running for our valuable services based on whatever criteria they felt like. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world. It’s the employer, rather than the employee who holds the cards.

    Now, I appreciate that you, personally, have made the calculation and decided that the odds of an employer identifying your postings on the internet are negligible and that you don’t care anyway, but not everybody comes to the same conclusion.


  12. Chris, my comments relate specifically to forum comments etc, I’m not talking about social media accounts in which users. to greater or lessor degree, do identify themselves.

    Names used in on line comments on blogs, news articles etc are an extremely unreliable means of identification even when the writer appears to use a real or plausible name. Any employer, or their agents, trawling such records in the belief that they can reliably identify the writers are certainly worthy of derision.


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