I hope that one of you can help me. I am honestly having trouble figuring out why the idea of “doxing” is such a terrible thing.
As I understand it, the idea of doxing is when we as a society call out people who anonymously post things online or hide behind organizational letterhead to express their beliefs. By using anonymity provided by an organization or even a fake social media account, these folks believe they can express whatever they choose without any sense of personal accountability for what they say.
At Harvard University, we saw the laughable nature of this situation when a number of organizations signed on to an anti-Semitic letter. The letter signed by dozens of campus groups left us with more questions than answers. How many of these organizations represented more than one or a handful of students? Some students belonging to these campus organizations were not even aware their student groups had signed the letter. Did attending a group meeting once allow them to be spoken for?
There’s a great series on Netflix called “The Fix.” Hosted by comedian Jimmy Carr, the show challenges comedians (alongside some thought leaders) to address some of the world’s most challenging problems. There was an entire episode dedicated to fixing the problem of anonymity on social media. One of the more brilliant suggestions for fixing social media made by L.Z. Granderson was that everyone who uses the internet should be required to apply for their own internet license. “If we know who you are, you’ll be way less likely to troll…” he said.
Imagine for a moment a world where no one could post anonymously online. It would not diminish freedom of speech. It would only heighten our sense of accountability for what comes out of our mouths, a value held precious by all people of faith.
I can appreciate that there are anonymous accounts online that are intended as humor or that are largely benign. I also will not condone leaking addresses and phone numbers when doxing people, causing them to be at risk for their personal safety.
However, it is also clear that as a society we cannot go on like this much longer. Radical positions taken anonymously are typically outside of the bounds of acceptable public discourse. Yet, the more this vitriol makes it out public, the more it becomes seen as acceptable in public. We can all see how it is transforming our society at large into an unhealthy place.
When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they did not do so anonymously. They knew they would become traitors to the crown and that they would be held accountable for their signatures. As a rabbi, when I sign a petition or write an article, I expect that anyone who wants to find me can go on the internet and send me an email. Sometimes, they even do.
In the Jewish faith, when we take a position, we are not only supposed to cite it in our names, but we are to cite the names of the teachers from whom we learned it. The Talmud is full of pages of attributions going back generations, because when we say something thoughtful, we want to give credit for those ideas.
Here too, the calculus should really be quite simple. If you don’t want to find your picture on the side of a truck identifying you for your beliefs, sign your name to a petition. Don’t hide anonymously in a comments section. And if identifying yourself gives you pause about what you are about to write, perhaps, you should wonder whether it is an idea worth sharing aloud in the first place.