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Is doxxing strangers online the right form of justice?


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Is doxxing strangers online the right form of justice?

The digital era has granted us unprecedented access to information and communication, but it has also birthed a darker side: Online vigilantism. 

Everything that happens now ends up on the internet for people to give their opinions and project their feelings. It has had some positive impact – it’s easier for us to hold people accountable for their actions. Last week, HDFC bank suspended a senior executive, after a video of him shouting at his employees for not meeting targets went viral on Twitter. The video also started a much-needed discourse about toxic workplace cultures brewing in India.

But it is a double-edged sword, providing us with endless opportunities for connection and creativity but also serving as a breeding ground for controversy and conflict. So-called ‘internet warriors’ are taking it upon themselves to punish the people that they think deserve it – by doxxing their personal information, and getting them fired from their jobs. More recently, internet users turned against two women captured in the background of a viral video where they appeared to mock an influencer for taking a selfie while attending a baseball game. Within 24 hours, one of the women reportedly was fired from her job. 

One of the greatest flaws of doxxing lies in its potential for misidentification. Mistakenly targeting and exposing innocent individuals is not uncommon. The consequences can be dire, leading to harassment, threats, and even physical harm. In 2013, doxxers wrongly identified student Sunil Tripathi as the bomber in the Boston Marathon attacks, and he subsequently killed himself. So needless to say, doxxing strangers without proper evidence or due process perpetuate a dangerous culture of online vigilantism that can have devastating effects on innocent lives.

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The repercussions of doxxing extend beyond the immediate invasion of privacy. A 2018 study by Hong Kong researchers found that almost all types of disclosed personal information result in negative feelings in victims, including depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that girls were more likely to experience doxxing compared to boys. And experts agree that children and teens are especially vulnerable to this, as social media usage among them becomes more normal but they’re not often equipped to handle the pressure. Shreya Prabhu, a counselling psychologist told us how “Sometimes students make memes/hate accounts to make fun of their peers”. She further added how children are afraid to even show their faces in online classes as they worry that someone might click pictures of their weird expressions and use them against them — preferring to bunk classes instead.

Much like anything, people have used doxxing for good and bad things. Like the time when Gen Z doxxed the Supreme Court Justices in the US who overturned Roe V Wade, outlawing abortion. But when there’s ill-intent behind it, the most vulnerable can end up being collateral damage, as we’ve witnessed often.

At its core, doxxing violates the fundamental right to privacy. Thanks to social media, the lines between our online and personal lives are blurring quickly. Instead of resorting to doxxing, we have the power to encourage constructive and responsible methods of addressing wrongdoing or holding individuals accountable. Reporting suspicious or illegal activities to law enforcement, supporting investigations, and fostering respectful online discussions can be more effective in achieving justice. Even when the targets are unambiguously worthy of condemnation – will this online vigilantism really lead us to a compassionate digital environment?

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