In March 2013, 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi disappeared and his family turned to social media to get the Brown University student’s name and face out to the public.
The family never expected that the platforms they used to help search for Sunil would become tools that aided a digital witchhunt.
Sunil was a philosophy student who played the saxophone and was often seen happy by those who knew him.
But Sunil suffered from depression, which was something his family struggled to talk to him about before the night he went missing.
The day after Sunil disappeared, his sister Sangeeta, created a video that the family made asking Sunil to come home, which they subsequently posted on multiple social media platforms.
Weeks passed with no word regarding Sunil’s whereabouts. Then, the Boston Marathon bombing occurred on April 15th, 2013, and things got even worse for Sunil’s family when his name went viral.
You see, after the bombing, surveillance video was released of the suspects and many users on popular social media websites such as Twitter and Reddit spread word that Sunil bore a strong resemblance to the suspected bomber.
According to Sangeeta, “What started off as people saying, ‘This image and your brother look the same’ became, ‘This image is your brother’ became, ‘How are you providing a cover for your brother to do this?’”
To make matters worse, someone posted online about hearing Sunil’s name over the police scanner, which was never found to be accurate.
Sunil’s family also received multiple phone calls from journalists, looking into the rumors about Sunil’s involvement in the bombing. So much was said on social media about Sunil, but none of it was accurate.
Sadly, Sunil’s body was found in the Providence River on April 23, 2013 and an autopsy revealed that he had committed suicide prior to the Boston Marathon Bombing.
What Is Doxxing?
Doxxing means publishing private information about someone online to harass or intimidate them. It has ruined reputations and caused untold distress to thousands of people like Sunil’s family.
Doxing can have serious consequences when it comes to invasion of privacy and even putting someone in physical danger.
It’s very similar to cyber bullying except information obtained in doxxing attacks is generally gathered from public sources such as social media profiles and simple Google searches or databases.
Anyone who has data online is theoretically at risk of doxxing. Often people are doxxed without warning and without doing anything to trigger or provoke it.
One of the most common forms of doxxing is when people are “outed” as having committed a crime, even though they were perfectly innocent.
Another common method of doxxing is sharing someone’s home address on social media.
Now, you may not care who has your address but if the fake news media showed up at your doorstep thinking you look like a local bank robber, then you will have wished no one knew your where you lived.
How to Protect Yourself from Doxxing?
Use throwaway contact information. We all know that websites collect information about us every time we visit.
The thing is, if you happen to be signing up for something where they ask for more detailed information such as your date of birth, you should use throwaway information.
So, make up a date of birth or where you went to college, etc. so the sites don’t have it.
Remove Unnecessary apps, programs, and extensions from your computer. Apps, programs, and browser extensions are known to collect personal data, usually without the full knowledge or consent of the user.
Every now and again, remember to clean these out or remove them entirely so you have full control over what they’re collecting.
In other words, if you don’t use it, get rid of it since it could be collecting and sharing personal information.
Use a privacy protection service. There are many different third-party services that can help to clean up your online profile and get personal data removed from websites or search engines.
Usually, you can provide them with a list of information you want removed or you can ask them to do the research for you and provide with the information about you online.
Now, these services aren’t cheap and can cost hundreds of dollars.
The other thing is, they typically require a subscription commitment since they will need to regularly delete any new information about you found online.
Two services I would consider are DeleteMe and Reputation Defender.
Lastly, you may think you have nothing to hide, you have no enemies and no one wants to hurt your reputation.
But remember, all it takes is one social media post, or even you giving a Yelp review that someone doesn’t like and they may have it out for you.
Ideally, it’s better to be prepared and consider these security steps so that you aren’t playing catch up and trying to repair the damage caused by a 25-year old computer nerd sitting in his parent’s basement who simply doesn’t like something you said online.