What really happens when you get doxxed

Emma McGowan 11 Oct 2023

The term doxxed is thrown around a lot online. But do you really know what it means?

So exactly what is doxxing? The term can sometimes get misused, so it's important to know what doxxing is–and what doxxing isn't.

The term "doxxing" comes from the word "documents," shortened to "dox." And doxxing specifically refers to the act of publishing private documents or personally identifying information about a person online. 

Doxxing can take various forms, such as revealing the real identity of an anonymous online personality or publishing someone's physical address, phone number, Social Security number, or other personal data online.

Here's what doxxing isn't:

  • Calling someone names online.
  • Making rude comments on social media.
  • Sending unwelcome direct messages.
  • Generally being a jerk online.

Getting doxxed can take a huge toll on your life, health, relationships and career. While every situation is different, most people who have their personal information exposed online experience anxiety, stress and other fallout from the event.

Doxxing can lead to death threats, false arrests, getting fired from a job, strain on your family and friendships and other big problems. Here's what really happens when you get doxxed (with real-life examples).

You may fear for your safety

A writer got doxxed and began to fear for their life after writing a mildly critical piece about Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour. "I was waiting in line to order coffee when the death threats started flooding my inbox," this reporter wrote on Insider.com. Some Taylor Swift fans, known as "Swifties" were doxxing the reporter online, revealing his personal information, his family's information, and his boss's contact information on social media. They even started a mass email campaign to get him fired from his reporting job. Fortunately, it didn't work. He wrote: "I was shocked and chilled by how far it went."

Your stress levels may skyrocket

An indie idol J-Pop group known as Sorb3t announced they were disbanding after they got doxxed in the midst of a controversy over cultural appropriation. After getting doxxed, the three members of the group announced they would be splitting up due to the stress they experienced from having their personal information published online. "The reason behind our disbandment is this whole situation is taking a huge toll on all of our mental and physical health," the group tweeted. While acknowledging issues that led to the outburst of criticism, Rolling Stone asked, "Did the internet go too far?"

Your work life may suffer

A socially conscious college student had a good job lined up at a big company for after graduation. Then she made a TikTok video about the "All Lives Matter" response to the "Black Lives Matter" movement. She made an analogy about getting stabbed vs. getting a paper cut to compare the two, and (she says satirically) joked about stabbing people. Her video caused a firestorm, including her home address getting published online. After a slew of graphic threats, she went into hiding, using a false name to move to a new apartment with better security. But her troubles weren't over: after getting bombarded with messages about the video, her future employer set up a Zoom call to rescind her job offer.

You may worry for your loved ones

A National Hockey League referee became the target for angry fans who disagreed with calls he made during a game in which the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to Tampa Bay Lightning. But the fans didn't stop there: they apparently "doxxed" the referee's family, posting personally identifying information about them online. That information was later removed from the internet. It's not uncommon for doxxing to extend to the families and other loved ones of the target, causing even more distress in their lives and social circles.

You may become the victim of "prank" attacks

Doxxing that involves revealing a person's home address or physical location can set them up to become the victim of "pranks" that are anything but funny. This may include fraudulent pizza deliveries or magazine subscriptions, which can be very distressing. That happened to a popular online streaming personality and transgender woman who was doxxed by having fake death threats sent to city council members to look like they came from her. The threats included her real address, and resulted in a SWAT team showing up at her door. After she moved for her own safety, someone found and published the name and location of the hotel where she was staying, resulting in five pizza deliveries to her room. "Obviously, the pizza itself isn’t the problem," she stated in a news report. "It’s the threat they send by telling me they know where I live and are willing to act on it in the real world."

You may get exposed to the risk of ID theft or fraud

Depending on what personal information is shared, you could end up at risk for ID theft or financial fraud if you get doxxed. Several Supreme Court justices got doxxed by "hacktivists" who were incensed about their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The hackers scoured the dark web to find personal data including home addresses, IP addresses, and credit card numbers with CVV codes. They then published this information on internet forums. This type of information is a gold mine for ID thieves and financial fraudsters. 

Doxxing may be done by a stranger, a rival, or even an embittered ex or former employee who has possession of your private data. If you get doxxed, it's important to take steps to protect yourself. First, document and save any evidence that you were doxxed and file a report with your local police. Then take any necessary steps to protect yourself, from creating new strong passwords for your email and social media accounts to turning on multifactor authentication and even changing your phone number.

It's also a good idea to seek out support from friends, family, and a professional counselor if necessary, as doxxing can clearly be an extremely stressful ordeal. And the good news is, the concrete steps you take to protect yourself after being doxxed can keep you safer from fraud and ID theft in the future. 

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