As parents, we’re willing to go to great lengths to keep our children’s identities and personal information from falling into the wrong hands. We use parental control features on their devices, we teach them about the dangers of identity theft, and some parents even sign up their kids for identity protection services.
But what happens when someone else leaks our children’s personal information on the internet on purpose?
That’s called doxxing, and while we can’t do anything about the fact that some people are willing to stoop so low to harass or harm others, we can do something to prevent our kids from falling victim to doxxing.
In this guide, we’ll discuss exactly what doxxing is, what you can do to keep your children safe, and what you should do if doxxing ever happens to you or to someone in your family.
What Is Doxxing?
Doxxing is a form of cyberbullying. It’s the act of gathering someone’s personal information for the purpose of leaking it on the internet. We could best describe it as the online equivalent of writing “call for a good time” and then someone’s name and phone number on a public bathroom stall wall.
The idea is that the one who released the information isn’t causing direct harm to the victim. Their actions, however, could incite others to act on the leaked information, which could lead to identity theft, cyber or physical stalking, harassment, and death threats. In some cases, doxxing becomes so severe that it leads to mental trauma, suicide, or even murder.
Doxxing in Real Life: Between the 1990s and early 2000s, an anti-abortion activist collected personal information of doctors throughout the United States who perform abortions. He then posted the information on a website that came to be known as the Nuremberg Files. Since then, eight of the listed abortion providers have been murdered.1
Who Doxxes and Who Gets Doxxed?
Now here’s where we parents get involved.
Originally, the main targets of doxxing were high-profile individuals. These are your politicians, celebrities, people who hold high positions in companies, well-known members of the community, and so forth. That’s still the case today, with J.K. Rowling being one of the more recent high-profile victims.2 Activists, in particular, use doxxing to intimidate or harass those who go against their views.
With the rise of social media and online communities like Discord and Reddit, however, even regular Joes and Janes can fall victim to doxxing, including kids and teens.
How a teenager might end up on the wrong end of a doxxing attack
Here’s a hypothetical but all-too-common story. A teenage gamer posted a comment on an online forum to express their thoughts on a certain video game. Another user disagreed and it turned into a heated keyboard war. Like most online arguments, they didn’t come to an agreement, and they eventually parted ways. Only, it didn’t end there.
The second user gathered the other’s personal information, social media links, home address, and phone number from his previous posts and then broadcasted them. He made sure to post the information in a forum where he knows members would agree with his views. Sure enough, forum members sent hate and spam messages to the victim’s accounts and even sent unsolicited pizza deliveries to his home.
The scenario above may just be made-up, but it perfectly describes doxxing among teenagers and their peers. It usually starts with something small — jealousy over a crush, losing an online game, or a friendly ribbing — but the outcome can escalate quickly. Add to that teenagers’ penchant for failing to realize the consequences of their actions, and the outcome can be disastrous.
Protecting Teenagers From Doxxing
Doxxing has existed almost as long as the modern internet has, and with how great a part the World Wide Web plays in our lives today, we should learn to live with the fact that doxxing is here to stay. But while we can’t prevent others from leaking personal information online, we can stop our children’s personal information from being uncovered in the first place. That’s the most crucial step in protecting teenagers from doxxing.
Perpetrators of doxxing often collect and put together breadcrumbs of personal information from numerous sources, such as:
- Social media profiles
- Data broker sites
- Forum posts
They may also use techniques like hacking, social engineering, phishing, and IP address sniffing. For example, if someone has your IP address, they can find out your approximate physical location. They may also be able to see which company provides your internet service and obtain more information from it.
The key, then, is to limit the amount of information available from those sources. Here are five things you could try:
Teach Your Teenager About Personal Information and Privacy
It’s never too early to start teaching our kids about the importance of privacy and protecting their personal information. A good rule of thumb is that before they start using social media, they should have a good understanding of what pieces of information they can and cannot divulge online.
Teaching them, however, is more than just listing things they can’t post on social media and other online platforms. We must patiently explain to them why those pieces of information must remain private and what could happen if the wrong person gets ahold of them.
Adjust Privacy Settings of Social Media Pages
Facebook and most social media platforms require users to be at least 13 years old.3 But even if your child is old enough, it’s still a good idea to set up their profiles yourself or at least guide them through the process. That way, you can ensure that they don’t put confidential information out there.
You should also set up their privacy settings to be as private as possible, meaning only friends can see their posts and comments.
Encourage the Use of a VPN
Given that finding out one’s IP address can be the gateway to gathering more information about a person, we and our kids should practice using a VPN, or virtual private network, whenever we go online.
VPNs hide users’ IP addresses by sending traffic through encrypted servers, so if someone tries to discover your IP address, what they’ll get is a VPN IP address that is likely shared among thousands of users.
Pro Tip: There are excellent VPNs that offer multi-device and unlimited device connections. Surfshark is an example; with a price as low as $2.30 per month, it’s one of the most affordable options for families.
Advocate the Use of Strong Passwords
Passwords play an important part in one’s digital safety, and from the get-go, we must instill in our children the importance of using strong passwords and having good password habits.
Here are some of the things we can teach them:
- Create strong passwords with both uppercase and lowercase letters, at least one number, and a special character. Ideally, passwords should be no fewer than 12 characters long.
- Don’t reuse passwords, and don’t use closely related or similar passwords across different accounts.
- Don’t include personal information, such as their birthday, in passwords, as those things are easy to guess.
- Change passwords if they suspect that an account may have been breached, and not just for the breached account but for every online account.
- Don’t write down passwords or save them in a note app; instead, use a secure password manager.
Buy Identity Theft Protection
Finally, it’s a good idea to use an identity protection service for your kids. If you already use one yourself, you can probably add them to a family plan. Identity protection services for minors don’t usually monitor all pieces of information, but they will at least look after the hotspots of child identity theft, like Social Security numbers.
Tip: Get our take on the best identity theft protection services for families.
What to Do If Your Teenager Has Been Doxxed
You did everything right, but somehow your child has been doxxed. What should you do now?
Well, the first thing to remember is that our kids should be able to turn to us during times of distress, and getting doxxed is definitely a cause for distress. We should also keep in mind that it’s not their fault and neither is it ours. With those things out of the way, here’s what you should do:
- Document everything. Take screenshots and keep records of everything that goes on. Doing so will serve as evidence and your child’s protection if law enforcement becomes involved.
- Contact the websites involved. if the doxxer leaked information through a social media platform, you can report it to the website. It will usually suspend the person who made the post and take down the post itself, as doxxing is not tolerated on most social media sites.
- Get law enforcement involved if necessary. The aftermath of doxxing may include stalking, threats, and blackmail. If you suspect any of these may be happening to your teenager, get law enforcement involved.
- Go on a social media blackout. Suspend or delete your child’s social media accounts, especially those linked to in the leaked information, to protect them from online harassment.
- Assess the situation with a clear mind. Once you’ve applied “first aid,” the next step is to assess the situation with a clear mind. Find out what has been targeted, what may come next, and how you can prevent further damage. Consider putting a freeze on your child’s credit too, as victims of doxxing are more likely to experience identity theft.
One common question regarding doxxing is, “Can’t law enforcement do something?” The truth is, the act of doxxing itself isn’t illegal in many places.
Let’s clarify: Obtaining and posting someone’s personal information is not illegal, as long as that information was obtained legally and is available in public records. However, if the doxxer got the information through illegal means — blackmail, harassment, or hacking, for example — they could be charged.
There are also cases where doxxers were charged because of the outcome of their actions. For instance, a doxxer was sentenced to five years in prison following a swatting incident that resulted in the victim passing due to a heart attack. Swatting is when someone calls 911 to falsely report a serious crime and sends police to the victim’s address. In the case above, the doxxer didn’t call 911 himself, but the one who did got the victim’s address from information he released.
Final Thoughts on Doxxing
The thought that doxxing exists is scary, but it’s even scarier to think that because of how embedded the internet is in our lives, doxxing is now a threat to teenagers.
That said, we as their parents can help them stay protected from doxxing by teaching them the importance of information privacy and encouraging them to use cybersecurity tools.
Check out these other frequently asked questions about doxxing and our answers to them.
How easy is it to get doxxed?
People who reveal more information online are more susceptible to getting doxxed than those who are more private. Doxxers collect breadcrumbs of personal information to build a dossier on their victims. If you limit the information you share about yourself online, you’re making yourself a harder target for doxxers.
Is doxxing illegal?
The legality of doxxing depends on the method in which the doxxer obtained the information and the outcome of the doxxing attack. Generally speaking, doxxing is not illegal if the perpetrator obtained the information through legal means and if the information is publicly available through public records.
That said, almost every social media platform prohibits doxxing, regardless of how the information is obtained.
When should I get law enforcement involved following a doxxing?
If there are threats to your life, or if you suspect that someone is out to get to you, you should immediately call the cops.
Is doxxing a threat to regular people?
Although doxxers primarily target high-profile individuals, anyone can be doxxed. With the popularity of social media and online communities, anyone can be targeted, and information about people, even those who are not public figures, can spread quickly.
Is doxxing the same as identity theft?
Although both doxxing and identity theft involve someone’s personal information, they are not the same. Doxxing involves releasing private information to the public, whereas identity theft usually involves using someone’s identity for things like credit applications, insurance fraud, and scams. However, doxxing can result in identity theft, and identity theft can result in doxxing, so we should watch out for both.
Slate. (2015, May 21). Strikethrough (Fatality).
Forbes. (2021, Nov 22). J.K. Rowling Slams ‘Activist Actors’ Who Doxxed Her During Trans Rights Protest.
Facebook. How do I report a child under the age of 13 on Facebook?