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Explained: Doxxing, the street-protest tactic that Hong Kong has cracked down on

A common dictionary definition of doxxing (also spelt as ‘doxing’) is to publicly identify or publish private information about someone, especially with the intention of punishing or taking revenge.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 28, 2019 6:48:21 pm
Doxxing hong kong, hong kong protests, democracy protests hong kong An anti-government protester wears a Dead Pool mask during a demonstration in Wong Tai Sin district, in Hong Kong (Reuters Photo: Athit Perawongmetha)

A court in Hong Kong has issued a temporary order, in effect until November 8, banning the practice of ‘doxxing’, media reports have said.

Doxxing has emerged as one of the major tactics employed by pro-democracy protesters who have been carrying out relentless, sometimes violent, demonstrations that the administration has found impossible to suppress for over four months now.

What is this tactic employed by the Hong Kong protesters?

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A common dictionary definition of doxxing (also spelt as ‘doxing’) is to publicly identify or publish private information about someone, especially with the intention of punishing or taking revenge.

Doxxing first emerged as hacker slang for obtaining and posting private documents about an individual, usually a rival or enemy. To hackers, who prized their anonymity, doxxing was considered a cruel attack.

In Hong Kong, protesters have been releasing information about police officers and their families, thereby opening them up to targeted violence or harassment and abuse, either physically or online.

The Hong Kong police have said they have received reports of hundreds of officers being targeted after they were doxxed by protesters. The Justice Department then asked the court to issue a ban on the practice.

Also read | Why are people in rich cities across the world protesting? 

Why is this seen as a problem?

In the street battles raging in Hong Kong, both sides have sought to make the identities of the people on the other side a weapon. The administration’s recent ban on face masks was intended to have a chilling effect, putting the fear of identification — and targeted punishment in future — into the young protesters.

The government’s attempts at forcing a crackdown against doxxing is seen as part of the same broad strategy. The court’s order has prompted criticism for its broad language, media reports said, underlining that it applies only to Hong Kong police officers and not to the public at large.

When did doxxing become a street protest tactic?

A report published in The New York Times in 2017 said that while online vigilantism — a primitive form of doxxing — has been around since the early days of the Internet, the phenomenon as it is understood today moved from subculture websites like 4Chan and Reddit to the mainstream since a white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of that year.

The intention was to identify and stigmatise, and attempt to force a change in the behaviour of the targeted individual through these intimidatory tactics. While it was employed widely against members of the neo-Nazi white supremacist crowd who seemed open and bold about their racism, its potential for use — and misuse — by a range of people and groups was apparent.

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