For many years now, a common tactic of anti-transgender campaigners has been doxing (sometimes spelled doxxing).
What doxing means
‘Dox’ means ‘documents’, and refers to a person’s private information; such as:
- Private photos.
- Home address.
- Contact details
- Legal name (if this is private)
- Date of birth.
- Information about their workplace or family.
- Medical conditions, disabilities, HIV status.
Doxing is the act of publicly releasing someone else’s private information to the public, without their consent, for malicious purposes.
Doxing is intended to be extremely distressing, and for many people it is.
Your safety is the main priority. This guide is designed to give you step by step ways to increase your safety, before or after being doxed.
Types of doxing
There are essentially two main types of doxing.
The first main type of doxing is usually posted on social media and is carried out by individuals who are known to the victim. The dox is usually spread by people in communities which are connected to the victim.
This type of dox often focuses on sharing the victim’s secrets or private stories, sexual photographs or details, false information about them, or false accusations against them.
Sometimes these posts might include a ‘call to action’. For example, ‘they should be fired’, along with details to contact your employer.
This type of doxxing is often carried out locally, and therefore can often be addressed using the law. However, it can also lead to the second main type of doxing.
If the person doxing or harassing you is a partner or ex partner, you can read our guide to safely ending an abusive relationship.
The second main type of doxing is doxing which is part of a ‘mass online harassment’ campaign. Mass online harassment is usually organised in dedicated online forums, which enable and incite both online and offline harassment. You could think of this as ‘crowdsourcing’ harassment and stalking.
Some such sites have the stated aim of ‘entertainment’, and others have stated aims of ‘protecting’ cisgender women from transgender women. Some have stated aims of causing the suicides of people which the forum opposes (like trans people, or neurodiverse people).
There are forums which are dedicated to harassing and stalking transgender people specifically, and forums dedicated to harassment and stalking more broadly.
WIRED published an article in 2022 on one of the most infamous stalking forums and one trans woman’s fight against it, which you can read here.
To find out more about this particular forum, see the ‘resources’ section of the Drop Kiwi Farms campaign website.
You can watch a documentary about online hate sites called Hate.com (2000) here.
Warning: the above two links contain explicit hate, threats, racism, antisemitism, transphobia.
What happens when someone is doxxed
Since the 1990s, there have been many, many cases of doxing and mass online harassment against transgender women, which have incited harassment and stalking offline as well.
Even without hacking passwords, email accounts, or social media, mass online harassment can cause significant problems for victims.
This includes cases where trans women’s employers have been mass contacted and lied to, resulting in employment loss, cases of landlords and homeless shelters being contacted, resulting in long term homelessness, and cases of schools being contacted about transgender teenagers. Even children as young as 5 years old have been targeted in order to harass their parents.
Another common harassment tactic is ‘swatting’. This means that a harasser calls the Police (a SWAT team) and says that they are the victim. They will impersonate the victim to the police and say things that are likely to bring an armed police presence to the house. They might make threats of extreme violence, against others, against the public, or against the police, in the victim’s name. They also give the victim’s address. The hope is that Police will assume the report is real, will go to the victim’s house, and shoot the victim, or at the very least that the victim will be detained and traumatised.
It’s also common for harassers to order products, deliveries, and services to the victim’s house, harass the victim’s parents or other family members, and to target the victim’s friends and supporters for similar harassment.
This harassment can carry on for months, or years.
In one extreme case, a trans woman was harassed for around a decade. Two harassers dated her and wore a wire to record conversations and post them online. A group of several harassers became her friends and talked her into believing false information and doing embarrassing and harmful things.
In a different case, a trans woman was mass harassed and stalked, and had to leave her home and stay in a motel. She took a photo of her cat on the motel bed and posted it online. The online harassment group looked at the bed linen, and worked out which hotel used that linen, and sent pizzas to the hotel under her previous name.
You can read more about these two cases in a PDF here. Warning, this is a deep dive into one of the the worst places on the internet, and is a horrible read.
This type of harassment can make the victim feel that they are not safe anywhere.
The person who paints a target on you might not be the one to act on it, but the message is clear: “I can’t be held responsible for what happens next.” Aside from intimidation, harassers will often use dox to create the illusion that they have totally invaded your personal space, even if their information is of limited value or inaccurate.Crash Override Network
How to stay safe from doxing
The simplest advice is to keep your personal information off the internet, or restrict it to people you know and trust.
Think about which social media platforms you use, and which information is available to the public or to people you don’t know well. This might include places you’ve lived, worked, or studied, past or current relationships, family members, photographs of personal things.
Other ways that information might be found include the White/Yellow Pages, WhoIs Lookup (if you own any URLs or run any websites), advertisements looking for flatmates – which might include your address or identifiable photos of your house, and dating or hookup sites which use your name or photo.
Google search your name, and any names you’ve used in the past, to see what is easily findable.
Further security advice includes both online and offline measures. Here are some excellent guides to increasing your security.
Crash Override Network
You can use Crash Override Network’s Automated Security Helper (C.O.A.C.H.) to help you lock down all of your online accounts. It is a step by step guide to securing your information online, with links to things like password managers, privacy settings on each social media platform, and many other features. You’ll probably need at least one hour to secure all of your accounts.
Just Delete Me
Third party sellers can also be an issue. Removing your information from some of these sites is simple, but some are difficult or even impossible to remove your details from.
You can find a list of third party sites at Just Delete Me, along with details on how to remove your personal information from each site.
Speak up and Stay Safe(r)
‘Speak up and stay safe(r)’ is a guide to protecting yourself from online harassment. It covers many important issues, including preventing doxing, passwords and login security, website security, social media, online gaming security, physical mail, using an alias name, video and text chat, securing your physical devices, people-focused security strategies, and a lot more.
If you’ve been doxed
Being doxed can be extremely overwhelming. It can help to be organised about how you process what is happening, what steps you take to secure your information, and how you plan what to do next.
First, don’t blame yourself. Other people have chosen to dox and harass you, and the blame and fault lies with them, not with you.
Second, use the guides we’ve linked above to secure your email account, and ideally your online presence.
Third, document what is happening.
Then you can move on to working out what to do next.
Having a record of any harassment (what happened and when it happened) is very powerful evidence, should you need it later.
You can do this by starting an email thread to yourself – make the subject something like ‘harassment’. Write yourself an email as though you are writing a report to the Police. Take screenshots of the doxing, and try to include the URL and the timestamp. If that’s not possible, write down the URL and when it was posted, and when you saw it. Include any useful information, such as who doxed you, if you know this.
Reply to the email thread with a new report every time something happens, especially if the harassment moves offline. This way, you have a clear record, even if you don’t have any other evidence of the harassment.
You can find tips on documenting harassment or stalking on Net Safety Project’s website.
Some people seek support by posting about the harassment on social media. This can have several effects, which you may want to consider:
- It can help you to get support from friends and others.
- It can help others to speak out about what has happened to them, and share useful advice with you.
- It can be a chance to tell people in your community not to accidentally give out your information, for example through social media posts and photos of you with geolocations.
- It can alert people that someone might contact them pretending to be you.
- It can mean that you receive many messages of support, which can be great or can be overwhelming.
- It can mean you get a lot of unwanted advice, or victim blaming (people saying it’s your own fault).
- It can mean that the people harassing you might see that you’re upset and decide it will be entertaining to continue or escalate the harassment.
- It can confirm that the information about you that has been shared is accurate.
If you choose to go public about your harassment, be aware of the risks before you do it, and consider locking down your privacy first.
Some people choose to ignore the harassment and carry on their online presence as usual, to show that they don’t care at all and it’s not worth trying to harass them.
Others take a break from the internet, to deprive their harassers of entertainment, to give themself some time to work out what to do, or just to get some respite from harassment.
It’s OK to do whatever feels right for you. It’s likely that everyone who knows about the harassment will have an opinion on what you should do, but it is your decision.
Remember that you can ask for help from people you trust without posting to a wider audience. You don’t have to go through this alone, it’s OK to ask for help.
Some people ask one friend (or support person) to monitor their social media, another friend to monitor their email inbox, and another friend to monitor the forum they were doxed on. Before you assign these kinds of tasks, consider how you want them to deal with comments or messages.
You may want to ask your support people to take a screenshot of harassment and put it into a folder for evidence, or to report and block harassers, or something else. If your email account has been signed up to a lot of spam lists by the people harassing you, you might want to ask the person monitoring your email to unsubscribe you from all spam lists and delete spam messages.
If you are receiving credible threats, such as your home address or your current whereabouts being posted online or sent to you by the people harassing you, you will need to take action to protect yourself.
Crash Override Network has an article on what to do if you’ve been doxed, which you can read by clicking the button below. This article also links to information on talking with Police and family about the situation.
If you haven’t yet checked out the Speak up and Stay Safe(r) guide above, make time to read through it now, and consider which areas are a security risk for you and how you want to manage these risks.
Using the law in Aotearoa
First of all, it’s important to know that Police are unlikely to fully understand what mass online harassment looks like, what it means for the victim, and what can be done to protect you. This being said, if it’s likely that a harasser might contact Police and impersonate you, it can be very helpful if they have been warned.
It can also be helpful to have an official record of when the harassment began, just in case it escalates in the future and you need to take legal action such as laying charges, seeking a Trespass Notice, or Restraining Order, or Protection Order, or something else.
If you have received credible threats, it may be possible for your phone number to be put on the Police list for ‘high priority’ calls, so that if you call for help your call will be recognised as urgent. Likewise, your home address could possibly be added as high priority, so that any calls from your street will alert Police to dispatch officers to your home.
You might find yourself asking why the Police aren’t doing more to protect you. There are some big difficulties in using the current laws to directly prevent or address crowdsourced mass harassment.
Let’s look at two scenarios, which highlight the differences between a more traditional stalking and harassment situation, and typical mass online harassment.
Scenario 1: traditional harassment
Imagine that everywhere you go, a certain person follows you, takes photos of you, and posts these online along with saying where you are right now, expressing negative views about trans people, and adding in some links to knife shops and medical information about stab wounds. They may not have directly threatened you with violence, but it’s very likely that they could be arrested and charged with at least harassment.
You could probably take out a Protection Order against them, which would make it illegal for them to be within several kilometres of your house or workplace, illegal for them to contact you or encourage anyone else to contact or harass you, and would remove any firearms licence they might hold, along with other protective measures.
Scenario 2: mass harassment
Now imagine a different scenario – whenever you go out in public, random strangers take photos of you. The photos are posted in an international online forum that is dedicated to transgender hate. The forum has many anonymous members who make explicit death threats against you. These members are mostly based in the UK or USA, outside of New Zealand legal jurisdiction.
This might be happening to you daily, but every time someone takes a photo of you, it’s done by a different person. Technically no individual is stalking you, even though what is happening to you is essentially stalking.
So, does any individual’s behaviour meet the threshold for harassment?
Is anyone legally accountable for harassing you?
Is there any way to apply our laws to someone in another country?
How can you be protected?
In some cases, there are protective legal mechanisms which can help.
In other cases, the best protection will be the things you do yourself, and the things your community does to protect and support you.
There are many different laws which relate to your human rights (such as the Human Rights Act, and the Bill of Rights), and laws which relate to criminal activity (including stalking, harassment, sharing someone’s private photos without their consent, harmful digital communications, making threats against a person, and assault).
The main formal routes to access legal protective mechanisms related to doxing are Netsafe, and New Zealand Police. You can also seek free legal advice from Community Law Centres.
If the harassment is based on a mainstream social media platform such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, Netsafe may be able to have it taken down. It’s also possible for Netsafe to arrange mediation and other support. If the harassment is based on a privately owned forum, it’s much less likely that the owners will cooperate. However, it may still be useful to talk with Netsafe about the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and what they can do.
New Zealand Police
If the harassment is coming from people who are in Aotearoa, The New Zealand Police may be able to intervene, stop the harassment, and prevent further harassment. If the harassment is coming from overseas, then our laws do not apply to the harassers and it’s less likely that the Police can hold the harassers accountable or protect you. However, it may still be useful to talk with the Police about what they can do.
Community Law offers free help and advice to people in Aotearoa. You can find out whether speaking to a lawyer can help you, and speak to one for free. As with Netsafe and Police, a lawyer may be of limited value when dealing with international harassment, but it may still be useful to speak with one.
If you are being approached or photographed offline
The official advice is to immediately call the Police by dialling 111 (one-one-one) from any phone.
We’ll briefly touch on a few other tactics to consider.
- Ignore them, but look directly at them first so they know you’ve seen them. This works best if they are not approaching you, and if you can leave safely without being followed.
- Start screaming ‘don’t touch me! Get away from me!’. This works best in a busy public place where it will draw attention from bystanders and embarrass the harasser into withdrawing. It is more effective when the person harassing you is a man.
- Ask for help – people who are working in the place you’re being harassed can be especially helpful. Say something like ‘excuse me, that person is following me and threatening me. Is there somewhere safe that I can go, or can you please call security?’. This works best when you’re in a shop, library, or somewhere that has staff, but it can also work in other situations.
- Start filming them. This works best when they are filming or photographing you, and you are not alone. Be aware that this may make them very angry, and they may attempt to take your device.
The following suggestions are ways that you could help to improve the safety of people around you who may be targets for harassment, or help if someone you know is being harassed, or ways that you could offer to support them.
- Follow the above guides on keeping your own information secure.
- Use the guides above to remove geolocation information from your social media posts.
- Don’t use apps which connect your phone number and phone contacts with your social media/friend suggestions (such as the Facebook app).
- Make sure you have permission before taking photographs of others and sharing them online.
- Limit the personal details and private stories which you share about others.
- Install and use secure messaging apps.
- Offer to monitor the victim’s social media, forums they were doxed on, or their email account.
- Offer to support the victim in talking with their school, employer, family, Police, or other people.
- Keep information about the victim and their whereabouts 100% confidential.
- If the victim has lost their job, had to leave their home, or otherwise had their material well being compromised, you could assist them in getting their needs met.
- Be a safe person to talk with. Even a person’s best friend can accidentally put them in danger by not following security protocol, so make sure it really is safe to talk with you, and be honest with them about any security risks or breeches.
It’s important to know that one of the main features of doxing, harassment, and abuse is taking away the victim’s privacy and their autonomy. Don’t be part of the problem. You are not their rescuer or saviour, and they’re not an infant. No matter how tempting it is to tell them what to do, remember to let them make their own decisions.
If their decisions are too risky, or the personal cost of supporting them is too high, just let them know you need a break from supporting them. It’s OK to step away. It’s not OK to breach their privacy or infringe their autonomy.
If you see someone being harassed offline, you can use the 5 Ds of bystander intervention. The 5 Ds are Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct. You can read more about The 5 Ds here.
Life after mass harassment
Victims of mass harassment often have the ongoing need to balance their safety with their basic need to live their normal life.
There is a lot of extra advice online for people who are being stalked, and some of it might be applicable to your situation.
This includes things like:
- Don’t go out alone.
- Tell your friends, family, employer, school, and others about the stalking, and not to give your address to anyone (even couriers)
- Designate your home a ‘no photographs’ zone.
- Identify escape routes to leave your home.
- Pack an emergency bag in case you have to leave suddenly.
- Purchase a new phone and only give that number to people you trust.
- Install solid doors and deadbolt locks in your home.
- Keep doors and windows locked, even when you’re at home.
- Use caution when opening your door – it’s better to be rude than harmed.
- Send deliveries to your workplace instead of your home.
- Make your electoral information unpublished.
- If you have vulnerable family members, inform their nursing home or school.
- Always park your car in a well lit area.
- Stay alert when you’re in public.
- Get a good trauma therapist, and talk things through with them.
- Carry a cellphone and charger at all times.
- Vary your routines.
- Take a self-defence class.
- Install security cameras.
These may be useful tips in some circumstances, but if mass harassment is ongoing (beyond 3 months), and you are receiving credible threats, you may need to consider larger and more permanent changes.
Living with the constant threat of violence is draining. It can make you depressed, hyper-alert and unable to relax, give you post-traumatic stress disorder, make it hard to eat, sleep, and socialise, and make working impossible.
You should not need to change your name, hair and clothing style, home address, phone number, or habits, but it may be necessary to consider whether the personal cost to you is higher if you continue on as you are, or if you have to change significant things about your life.
Some people believe that their harassers will ‘win’ if they have to make these kinds of changes.
Others believe that ‘winning’ is not worth living with constant fear and stress,
Ultimately, winning is not the most important thing. The most important thing is your own quality of life. If the harassment is overwhelming and relentless, make as big a change as necessary to get your life back. You can always re-emerge later when you’re in a stronger position.
Doxing and mass harassment can change a person’s life forever, but it’s your life and it will go on, so hang in there.