I’m self-employed and have no children. My clients have no fucks to give about my sex life, so if I was outed, there would be few consequences. I keep my personal details in a veritable Fort Knox anyway because I’ve learned a little about online harassment.
Three years ago, I thought online abuse was a war you fought against pixels. It was just the internet, after all, so if things got tough, you could log off and get back to your perfectly peaceful life. The worst of internet toxicity was picking up a stalker who followed your internet trail with their teeny pixilated eyes. I could handle that just fine.
If that’s your impression, you’re not really grasping how bad harassment can get.
As Gamergate so appallingly demonstrated, online abuse crawls offline in unexpected ways. Three of the movement’s victims had to move out of their homes when identifying details were released on high-traffic sites. The internet has more than its share of abusive people hunting for strangers to terrorise, so Zoe Quinn’s attack went on for years. If the first group of criminals got bored, there were plenty of others willing to pick up the cause. The movement has 10, 000 supporters, so their abuse continues years later, and they won’t be running out of steam anytime soon.
Those who’d threatened to kill Quinn had her home address.
How easy do you think it is to log out of those murder threats now?
Sexual photographs were sent to her father, and her voicemail was hacked.
How easy is it now?
Her trash was scoured for anything that might get her jailed.
Another target, Anita Sarkeesian, had to flee her home and cancel a speaking appearance on the back of three death threats that eventually rose to 45. Gamergate made fake emergency services reports that triggered a SWAT team response to two other victims’ homes—and these frequently end in shootings. It also convinced advertisers to pull out of deals with other targets.
“The threat is clear: We can get to you. We can hurt you. We don’t stop.” – Ben Kuchera
Logging off is as effective as closing your eyes in the hope that murderous people can no longer see you. On Fetlife, doxing can also bring an entirely new threat: You can lose your job and custody of your children.
Doxing has become the norm on social networks, and those who do it are often high profile people. Even Gawker did it, and the most common reason cited is “justice”. In other words most doxers have a “cause”, so even the morality of your acquaintances won’t keep you safe.
Only keeping your identity offline can achieve that.