Incredibly well reported and researched. And deeply moving.
First aired on 9.25.17
‘Now What Am I Known For?’ Trying to Find Oliver Sipple’s Legacy
by Latin Nasser
Our latest episode tells the story of Oliver Sipple, a Vietnam vet who went for a walk one day, and ended up saving then-President Gerald Ford from an assassin’s bullet. A day later, renowned gossip columnist Herb Caen – in conjunction with the activist Harvey Milk – outed Sipple as gay. Sipple hadn’t told his family. The revelation made national news and he eventually sued several newspapers for invading his privacy.
Trying to capture something so evanescent as a reaction to a headline forty years after the fact is no small challenge, but we started calling up some organizations we thought might be able to help. Turns out, we didn’t have much luck. But in all those calls, we did talk to two people who shared what Sipple and his story meant to them. And – although we had to cut them from our story for time – we still wanted to share snippets from those conversation.
More on reporting privacy with a focus on the digital age and the ease of exposing privacy with massive and often debilitating effects.
What is ‘doxing’?
Or that man who was wrongly identified as the Boston Marathon bomber?
These were all examples of how making someone’s personal, and sometimes private, information public on the internet led to intense harassment.
Today, each of the cases could easily be termed a form of doxxing—shorset for “dropping documents.” In the last few years, doxxing has increasingly been used as an online weapon to attack people. People’s “documents”—records of their addresses, relatives, finances—get posted online with the implicit or explicit invitation for others to shame or hector them.
But while doxxing may seem both creepy and dangerous, there is no single federal law against the practice. Such behavior has to be part of a wider campaign of harassment or stalking for it to be against the law.
This week I wrote about “doxxing” among the more extreme elements of the country’s political left and right, a world of zealotry and paranoia and anger and worry. Over the course of my reporting, the subject of my article got doxxed herself.
It was all fascinating and disturbing, and I think leaves people, myself included, with a lot to think about concerning doxxing—its effectiveness and appropriateness both. Reporters, after all, have been doing a form of doxxing for decades.
But to hope of thinking clearly about doxxing, it always helps to better understand it and its practitioners.
So, how do doxxers dox? They use public records, like property records, tax documents, voter registration databases; they scour social media, real estate websites, and even do real-life surveillance to gather information. Then, they publish the information online.
For some, doxxing is morally troubling. Law professor Danielle Citron is one. “It provides a permission structure to go outside the law and punish each other,” she says. “It’s like shaming in cyber-mobs.”
Then, there is the matter of doxxing the wrong person.
Here’s an example: After the infamous “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, an attendee wearing an “Arkansas engineering” shirt was identified as Kyle Quinn, a professor at the University of Arkansas. Except Kyle Quinn wasn’t in Charlottesville. That didn’t stop the internet, and so when “Kyle Quinn” was doxxed as one of those torch-bearing protesters in Charlottesville, Quinn spent a weekend in hiding due to the amount of online abuse he subsequently received. The real protester, a former engineering student named Andrew M. Dodson, later apologized.
In some cases, people doxxed after taking part in white supremacist marches have been arrested, lost their jobs, or allegedly been disowned by their families.
Other experts question whether doxxing white supremacists is a useful tactic. “Is this an effective means of challenging racist views?” ask Ajay Sandhu and Daniel Marciniak, researchers at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. They argue that doxxing simply isolates people, forcing them into smaller parts of the internet. “You don’t really challenge them, you allow them to exist in those isolated spaces,” Sandhu says.
How do you protect yourself from doxxing? The short answer is: You probably can’t fully. But we have a few tips that will help make the information you want kept private more secure.