‘Doxxing’ unethical under any circumstance

By Editorial Board

International activist hacker group Anonymous released the names and pictures of 23 alleged members of the Ku Klux Klan on Nov. 16—including former police officers and educators—on its website.

The group, in revealing KKK members’ identities as an act of retaliation after the KKK threatened to use “lethal force” against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, declared “Anonymous won’t tolerate racism in any form, or the suppression of the right to protest.”

Although the KKK as an organization holds vile beliefs, the revelation of its members’ identities was an invasion of personal privacy and could endanger innocent parties, considering Anonymous’ history of misidentifying people.

After the police-related shooting death of Michael Brown, Anonymous posted the name of a police dispatcher from St. Ann, Missouri, on its Twitter account, falsely accusing the man of the murder, according to an Aug. 14 USA Today report. The man’s personal information went viral online and he subsequently received death threats. Anonymous never admitted its error.

If Anonymous wrongly identified some as members of the KKK, those people might be subject to unjustified harassment, and their reputations could be permanently tarnished. Based on its past mistakes and behavior, Anonymous should be aware that false identification is a real possibility, yet the group continues to wage its irresponsible “cyberwars.” Although it is commendable that the group is attempting to combat racist views from the KKK, the possibility of false identification is too great to continue revealing possible members’ identities.

The danger of false identification reared its head last year after reddit users charged innocent people as the culprits behind the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. Avid reddit users suspected two high school students of the act, and their names and photos were plastered on the front page of the April 18, 2013 New York Post issue, according to a June 9 CNN report. The FBI was so fed up with the false identifications that special agent Richard DesLauriers emphasized during a press conference on April 18 that only the FBI’s evidence was reliable, publicly discrediting the dangerous speculation that occurred online.

The overwhelming support from online commentators on Anonymous’ latest hack also exposes a double standard to “doxxing,” the practice of releasing personal information on the Internet, usually as an act of retaliation. The Internet went into an uproar when gamer Zoe Quinn was doxxed after her ex-boyfriend wrote a blog post claiming she used sex to achieve her success in the gaming industry, according to an Aug. 20 Daily Dot report. Quinn’s address and phone number were released, and she was threatened and harassed. Her story attracted national attention, and the public largely deemed the hackers misogynistic. On the other hand, Anonymous’ doxxing of the KKK has been justified on the basis of its target’s racism.

Comparing the two incidents may seem far-fetched, but the intent is the same: Both offenders aimed to cause harm to the targets of the “dox.” The main purpose of “doxxing” is to cause damage, and such an act should never be supported.

Hacker groups that frequently dox in the name of justice but at the price of endangering targets are perpetrating criminal acts, and people should no longer encourage this behavior.