Snopestionary: What is Doxxing? |

Snopestionary: What is Doxxing? |

To Twitter CEO Elon Musk accused numerous journalists who violated Twitter’s new policy against “doxxing” by sharing data showing his live location, the meaning of “dox” became a topic of online chatter in late 2022.

According to Merriam-Webster, to “dox” or “doxx” is “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone), especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” The sensitive personal information shared may include home addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers, emails, bank account information and more.

According to Avasta digital security and privacy firm, “Doxxing attacks range from the relatively benign, such as fake mail logins or pizza deliveries, to the far more dangerous, such as harassment of a person’s family or employer, physical harassment, beatings, identity theft, and other forms of cyberbullying.”

Avast describes doxxing as a way to collect “breadcrumbs” about an individual over the Internet and use the information to reveal the supposed real person behind an alias, or to reveal the private address, phone number and other data on the Internet buy and sell. The practice evolved from online arguments, and led to people digging up information about adversaries: “More recently, doxxing has become a popular tool in the culture wars, with activists doxxing those with opposing viewpoints. Many politicians, celebrities and journalists are doxxed. , causing them to suffer from online mobs and even death threats.”

Disclosing someone’s private information is not necessarily illegal in the United States, although legality is determine on a case-by-case basis. Almost a dozen states have passed anti-doxxing laws (with more in the works), including a California law that increased fines for doxxing reproductive health care workers. After the reversal of Roe v. Wade created the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) a guide on how to protect information that reproductive health professionals present to the government as California seeks to become a place where women can travel to get abortions. One resource is the Safe at Home program, which allows “reproductive health care workers and patients facing threats to get a confidential snail mail address they can use to protect their privacy.”

In the United States, certain laws, such as the Interstate Communications Statute and the Interstate Stalking Statute, can be applied to doxxing, while social media sites such as Twitter already have anti-doxxing rules built into their platforms. According to Avastdoxxing can contribute to other criminal activities such as stalking, harassment, incitement to violence, identity theft, and more, and the action is often prosecuted along with other criminal offenses.

Under Musk, however, the anti-doxxing rule came under fire after it was amended to include a ban on sharing “live location information, including information shared directly on Twitter or links to third-party URL(s) of travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would identify a person’s location publicly, regardless of whether this information is publicly available.” Commentators argue that Musk is using this rule to clamp down on his critics on the platform, after he banned journalists who he said were reporting on the movement of his private jet.

Indeed, some fear that anti-doxxing laws may be abuse, as journalists often publish private information for the sake of public accountability, especially when it comes to reporting on politicians’ activities. The Nevada branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke out worries against an anti-doxxing bill passed in the state in 2021, saying recent battles against racism rely on people posting videos and identifying information about others on the Internet behaving in a harmful way toward others.

“Posting information online and in other forums is one of the few ways that ordinary people can hold people in positions of power accountable,” Holly Wellborn, the ACLU’s policy director, told The Associated Press. “Statute may not under any circumstances be used by a public official—whether a police officer or a legislator—as a tool to punish innocent conduct and constitutionally protected speech.”

There are many ways to protect yourself from being doxxed, and steps to take if you have already been doxxed. The UUniversity of California, Berkeley Ethics CenterEFF, and Avast has handy guides on self-protection. According to the Ethics Centeryou can start by doing the following:

  • Adjust your social media settings:
    • Make sure your profiles, usernames/handles are kept private
    • Remove any addresses, workplaces and specific locations from your accounts
    • Set your posts to “friends only”
    • Avoid discussing personal information that could be used against you, as well as anything that could identify your address, workplace or contact information
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) and a
    • If you must use public Wi-Fi, turn off the public network sharing feature on your device
  • Use strong passwords
  • Switch usernames and passwords across platforms
  • Hide domain registration information from WHOIS (a database of all registered domain names on the web)

Numerous types of doxxing – by someone obtaining your IP address, by collecting information from your social media accounts, buying information from a data broker, phishing scams, sniffing (when someone intercepts Internet traffic on its way from the sender to the recipient), WHOIS lookups (WHOIS is a service that allows anyone to learn information about the person who owns a domain on the Internet), and more. You can read more about them all here.


Barnett, Daly. “Doxxing: Tips for Protecting Yourself Online and How to Minimize Harm.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 16 Dec. 2020, Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“Definition of DOX.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed on 16 December 2022.

Ibrahim, Nur. “Did Elon Musk once say he hopes even his ‘worst critics’ stay on Twitter?” Snopes, 16 Dec. 2022, Accessed on 16 December 2022.

Maass, Dave. “How California Reproductive Health Professionals Can Protect Information They Submit to Government.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10 Aug. 2022, Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“Nevada Lawmakers Advance Bill Against Organized Harassment.” AP NEWS, 20 Apr. 2021, Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“Protect Yourself from “Doxxing”.” Office of Ethics, University of California, Berkeley. Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“Should Doxing Be Illegal?” HLS Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, Sept. 3 2021, Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“Twitter’s Privacy Policy and Doxxing.” Twitter Help, December 2022. Accessed on 16 December 2022.

“What is Doxxing, Is Doxxing Illegal, and How Do You Prevent It?” Avast. Accessed on 16 December 2022.

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