Doxxing: Emergency Steps to Take
When journalists are doxxed, this means that personal data about them are being circulated on the internet with the intent to cause them harm. This data will likely include their home address or phone number as well as other information that can be used to locate them, contact them, or be used to commit identity theft. It is important for newsrooms to take steps to ensure that journalists have access to the support they need during this time.
Assess the physical danger
Speak with the journalist about the threats that are being received and try to establish whether the journalist is in immediate physical danger. The risk is greater if the attacker or attackers are local or are able to travel to be physically close to the journalist. If your newsroom has a security team, speak with them to determine best practices for protecting the physical security of the journalist. This may include temporary relocation. Read more about emergency steps to take in our section on physical security.
Secure online data and accounts
Online harassers will often continue to search for further personal details even after the journalist has been doxxed, including hacking of accounts. Work with the journalist to secure and remove personal online data. More information on this can be found in our section on helping journalists to secure their online data. Be aware that it can take time for data to be removed from the internet and once a journalist has been doxxed that data will continue to exist on the internet in different online spaces, such as message boards and other people’s personal accounts.
Doxxing is often part of a severe online attack during which a journalist’s accounts, including email, are bombarded with messages. It can be helpful for the journalist to step away from all accounts until the attack has died down. This, however, can mean that threats towards the journalist may be missed. Speak with the journalist to see if it is okay for a colleague or other member of staff to monitor the journalist’s accounts. If the journalist does not feel able to give access to a newsroom colleague to review the journalist’s social media or email, suggest a family member or close friend instead.
Document the attack
It can be important to document the attack in case the journalist is interested in pursuing legal action. Create a spreadsheet to capture information, such as the date of the attack, the handle of the harasser, a URL link, the platform it happened on, and whether the journalist under attack reported it to the tech company. Take screenshots, in case the reported content is removed, by platforms or harassers themselves. It will also help to identify patterns in the harassment and possibly identify who is behind the attacks.
Reporting, Blocking, Muting
This is when you use platform features to mitigate the impact of the attack. Reporting the online attack to the platforms is necessary, even if they are not always responsive. Reporting may mean that harmful content is removed and it can also help, if reporting to law enforcement, to show that abuse has been reported to a tech company.
When harassed, the journalist might also want to block, mute or hide harmful content to avoid seeing violent messages and protect their mental health. In some cases, blocking can exacerbate or escalate harassment because abusers can see that they’ve been blocked.
Provide psychosocial support
Being doxxed can be extremely distressing for journalists both in the short and the long term. Not only is the journalist dealing with a targeted online attack, but the journalist may have a lot of uncertainty about personal safety and the safety of family members. Giving the journalist access to trained psychosocial care is important in ensuring support.
Building doxxing protection into risk assessments
Predicting when online harassment may occur before publishing a story will help journalists better protect against it. Build preventative measures into risk assessment documents and make editors aware of steps to take to help journalists prepare for online attacks.
Creating policies and procedures to better protect against doxxing
Having policies in place to protect and support staff when it comes to doxxing is important. This will help you and your newsroom to better prepare for and respond to an attack. Read more about this in our section on newsroom protocols.
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International Press Institute
Detailed protocols on everything from reporting harassment to providing public statements of support.
International Press Institute
Criteria for newsrooms to determine the likelihood of a physical attack happening as a result of an online threat.
A comprehensive checklist for assessing online threats.
A comprehensive guide detailing how to document online harassment.
What to know before reporting online abuse, platform by platform.
An overview of blocking, muting, and restricting content on platforms.
Practical checklist for journalists looking to document online abuse.
User-friendly information on how to use different platforms’ reporting and privacy tools.