Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

What Would It Take To Make Doxxing Hard?

I asked a thing on Twitter today, and a thoughtful conversation ensued. Here I am typing out what I mean in a bit more detail. (Limited myself to 15 minutes, tho, cos I have slides to revise!) These are honest questions, and I know they probably make me seem naive. But I am really curious.

Doxxing is the biggest threat that Internet mobs can bring to bear on a person, generally, right? Like, in many cases they are the only way that people on the internet who hate something you said can actually reach you in the physical world. Not to downplay the significance of purely digital harassment, but I am really curious what it would take to make doxxing more or less a thing of the past.

A lot of people say “you’d have to be homeless, or change your identity every so often, or never do anything online”, &c. Well, that’s assuming the current laws and internet infrastructure don’t change. I really want to know, what would it actually take? Getting laws passed at the federal level? Rewriting all of the protocols the internet runs on? I am really curious.

Mainly I am thinking about publishing of people’s home addresses here, since that is the way your physical safety gets put in danger in a doxxing situation. It seems that property tax records are public and voting records are public, and they both have your full name and address easily available for anyone who cares to find them. (I know because I’ve been harassed by someone who dug up my home address. Whee!) Presumably these systems were created in a time when internet mobs, dead set on making people fear for their lives in retaliation for speaking out, were not a thing. Why are they public? What will break in our society if your name and address are no longer publicly associated in those records? Would just your name do? Your name and some uniquely-identifying ID number? I would like to know what problems those records solve, and whether they can be solved in another way.

Another place your name and address get associated is in companies' databases. Someone needs to come out to your house in order to install a new water heater, and the post office needs to know where to deliver your new iPad, right? But doesn’t it seem strange that everyone you’ve ever done business with gets to find out where you sleep? What would happen if online retailers, home services, and the like all had records that didn’t include your name? What would break? Could we fix it?

Are there other ways people can get your info too easily, and are there better ways to handle those situations?

What would a society look like where you could truly say what you think online, without hiding your name, and without people finding out where you live and threatening you? Assuming we don’t devolve into a horrid dystopia run by internet sociopaths, how might we be protecting people better 100 years from now? Can we get there faster?