Doxing in Modern Journalism
Doxing is considered searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Doxing originated as a slang term for hackers to describe the act of gathering or posting private documents about a person. Doxing has now resurfaced as term widely speculated in modern journalism.
“These days, journalists are damned if they report information obtained by doxing, and damned if they don’t,” says Collette Snowden, Senior Lecturer for School of Communication University of South Australia. The obligation for modern journalists to post a story fast, in some cases, leads to the scarification of accuracy. Journalists have a choice between waiting to run a story to further fact check or being the first to get the story out.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a global network of more than 200 investigative journalists in 70 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stores. “Our digital innovation, our secure international network, and our access, through whistleblowers, to gigantic data sets that exist nowhere else, allow us to dig out information that would otherwise be hidden from view,” says the ICIJ team. “Crowdsourcing journalism offers a way forward between random doxing and organized information retrieval and analysis,” says Snowden.
Doxing, in other cases, is used to attack a particular person or group. Once a person’s information is discovered, the details of their identity are used against them. Millions of people all over the internet can see the information that has been posted about them. In response, they can send threatening emails, hate mail, and even find out the location of their home or workplace.
When a person or group has such personal information out there for the world to see, it puts them in a vulnerable situation. In journalism, journalists are known for publishing stories for the greater good. However, another part of journalism ethics is to minimize harm. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness,” says Society of Professional Journalists.
How ‘Doxxing’ Became a Mainstream Tool in the Culture Wars covers a case of Neonazi members being doxed. Once the identities of the Neonazi organization were published many of the members were fired from their jobs. Others were harassed by people in their community. “While the cause might seem worthy, doxing is and remains online vigilantism and this is never good,” says Ana Dascalescu, Cyber Security Enthusiast.
The contrast between doxing and reporting is that journalists are held accountable for the words they speak or write. They are bounded morally and legally to a code of ethics their vocation has legally contracted them to. While the people who dox online normally post anonymously, they often post information about a person that has nothing to do with the angle of their story.
“The motivation for journalists to reveal investigative information in the public interest is different from the harassment of doxing and typically faces a more stringent litmus test before publication,” says Jenn Henrichsen, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Most editors will take into consideration if the information is already widely accessible and if it is an important key to the story.
The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication by Robert Trager, Susan Dente Ross, and Amy Reynolds says, “Publicly available facts are not private. Names, addresses, and telephone numbers are widely available, so they are not confidential.” However, the U.S Constitution states that federal laws and court decisions offer some limited privacy protection. In 1960, a privacy law was created into four different subcategories; false light, appropriation, intrusion, and private facts.
False light, in the court of law, protects a person’s right from publicity being misrepresented or labeled as something they are not. Appropriation occurs when there has been an invasion of privacy. It could be their name or likeness being used without their permission. Intrusion is when a person is invaded either physically, intentionally in his or her private area. Publishing of private fact, even if those facts are true is considered unlawful. For example, writing a story about a person’s financial struggles or sexual orientation could lead to a lawsuit.
Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer and editor of WikiLeaks, tweeted “A multibillion-dollar TV network blackmailing a private citizen into not making funny videos about it, is not journalism, CNN.” CNN released a statement stating they would not publish ‘HanAssholeSolo’s’, creator of the meme which shows President Donald Trump beating up a CNN logo because he is a private citizen. However, CNN then goes on to that they reserve the right to publish his identity should any of that change. Leading the public to interrupt that particular CNN statement as blackmail.
Doxing a person with malicious intent, like threatening to release someone’s personal information to blackmail could be considered a crime if proven guilty. Ethics play a huge role in modern day journalism. The role of journalists includes educating the public, being the watchdogs of their community and being an unbiased storyteller for the masses. For the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, deep investing plays a critical role in their everyday lives. However, when does publicly releasing someone’s personal information cross the line from journalism to doxing?
“Admittedly, the line between doxing and journalism is not always clear…The question of what is in the public interest- versus what the public is interested in- is a subjective, moral one. And even professional journalists can get it wrong,” says Emma Gray Ellis, Executive Women’s Editor at the Huffington Post. Journalists have a duty to report the news as an unbiased member of their community. Morals and ethics act as a compass to help journalists choose what stories to write, what information to include, and how they should angle their story. Like most people in the world, no journalist is the same. What he or she chooses to write about relies solely on themselves, the public and their editor.