Doxing may be tantamount to cyberbullying, online harassment
A civil online society should shun such practices, even in cases like this
BY now, most of us in Malaysia at least would have heard of the case of the ‘Kiki outburst,’ in which a 30-year-old woman overreacted and retaliated by repeatedly hitting the car of the 68-year-old man who had accidently bumped into her three-week-old Peugeot.
A video of the incident last week went viral, showing Siti Fairrah Ashykin, known as 'Kiki,' reacting violently by swinging her car's steering lock at the car of Sim Siak Hong, in the city of Kuantan in the East Coast of Malaysia. She was also caught on camera demanding RM2,000 (US$620) and hurling racial insults at the senior man, who remained calm.
Kiki has gone on various media channels to apologise for her behaviour. Sim, affectionately known as ‘Uncle Sim’ after this incident, said he has forgiven her for her actions and urged his fellow Malaysians to do the same.
The police however conducted an investigation, and released her on police bail after having detained her for questioning. On July 22, Kiki was fined RM5,000 in default of three months' jail, and ordered to do 240 hours of community work, according to The Star Online.
Several companies have offered assistance to both Kiki and Sim. Peugeot Club Malaysia offered to pay for the damage to Sim’s car as well as anger management classes for Kiki, while telco DiGi Telecommunications offered to pay for repairs to both cars.
Digital News Asia columnist and lawyer Foong Cheng Leong also weighed in on the matter, giving a comprehensive viewpoint of this incident from a legal perspective.
When the news first broke, I mulled writing a commentary on the matter but held back, figuring the issue had seen enough play over the span of two days.
Over the weekend though, I revisited some of my thoughts and realised that some things had to be said about one aspect of this whole debacle: That of how netizens tracked down Kiki's personal details using social media and general online search techniques, and exposed this information to all and sundry.
Such a practice is known as ‘doxing’ or document tracing, that is, tracing someone or gathering information about an individual using sources on the Internet.
The Malay Mail Online reported that after the video went viral, Internet users took it upon themselves to search out Kiki online, adding that they used Kiki’s car registration number, CDM 25, and other publically available online information to find out her telephone number and employer, and proceeded to publish this online.
Some Internet users also apparently lifted photographs of her and turned these into caricature memes, while others went online to curse her with various profanities.
All this led to what was essentially a targeted campaign against the woman, with even her office website allegedly coming under attack from some Malaysians who took issue with her road rage incident, the Malay Mail Online report noted.
Now, most people, including me, would agree that what Kiki did was downright wrong. Her racist rants and the way in which she went after Sim's car with her steering lock was inexcusable. Despite the magnanimous gesture on the part of Sim, saying that he’s forgiven her for the act and urging all of us to follow suit, Kiki needs to face the full brunt of the law and account for what she did.
But let me make it unequivocally clear too that the adage 'two wrongs do not make a right’ must also be applied here.
Just because Kiki was absolutely wrong, doesn't make doxing her right either. In my opinion, the extent of what was done to her is tantamount to cyberbullying, which the US Department of Health and Services defines as the use of information technology to harm or harass other people in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.
Some may argue that in this case, Kiki should have had no expectations of privacy as much of the information curated by netizens about her was available in the public domain to begin with, a point rightly argued by Foong in his column.
He also pointed out that without specific legislation to govern harassment, including online offences, it would be difficult to determine whether such an act amounts to harassment without a legal definition.
However, it’s my belief that just because we can get to her information and that there is no legal recourse against online harassment in Malaysia for now, it does not make what was done to her morally justifiable.
Others may argue that these actions were designed to embarrass her and force her to come forward and apologise for her actions. Some also might believe that what goes around comes around.
To those who believe such things, I say again: You can’t conveniently erase the wrong someone does by committing another wrong. A second wrong does not undo the first.
Simply exposing her on the Internet by mining her publically available information and displaying it for all to see isn’t going to solve this problem. All it does is perpetuate a culture of retaliation and, in the most extreme of cases, a culture of vigilantism – all done behind the comfort of a computer screen.
That is indeed is a scary thought.
To the best of my knowledge, Kiki hasn't faced any physical repercussions after her personal information was exposed, although she did claim that one of her social media accounts was hacked.
But what if the revelation of her personal information did lead to some actual harm being done to her, something that would be definitely wrong in the sight of the law?
This is an incredibly slippery slope. The act of naming and shaming her could have quickly spiralled out of control.
The Internet accords us ordinary citizens great power, its democratising effects having led to an information revolution for good ... or for bad. But I believe that as responsible users of the Internet, we owe it to ourselves and others to act properly and not do something that is wrong just because we can.
Members of a civilised Internet-driven society shouldn’t be taking matters into their own hands in such a way. By all means, the people who feel aggrieved by the incident should lodge police reports and let the law take its course, but we should never stoop so low as to do things that could potentially cause real harm to people.
Perhaps we should lobby our lawmakers to come up with legislation to prevent online harassment and protect the privacy of users even when such information is available in the public domain, as suggested by Foong.
Secondly, we should think before we click and share, retweet or forward email to our social circles. With one stroke, we could be making things worse. After all, as clichéd as it sounds, information is power and can used for both good and bad.
It also goes without saying that we’ll have to be more circumspect about what we decide to put online, as too much information may come back to haunt us.
We also need to get serious with our password protection. At least enable two-step authentication – an additional step to log in to our accounts instead of just using a username and password, wherever possible.
Finally, let us emulate the example shown by Uncle Sim – to remind ourselves that we need to exercise restraint not only in the real world but also in the online world.
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