Please note: this information is based on the most common forms of doxing we see in North America, but will vary by country. If you have information on how people from other countries experience this and feel like helping us expand this guide, please contact us!
One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with online harassment is trying to accurately communicate what is happening to you to the people in your life in a way that they might understand. What seems like an all-consuming tidal wave of hostility and credible threats to someone who works online can seem trivial to people who don’t have that kind of relationship with the internet. We’ve assembled a few basic tips that we’ve found help the less tech-savvy people in our lives understand the very real toll of internet harassment, as well as some basic tips to get on the same page with the people in your life and law enforcement, in the event that you unfortunately need it.
Assess their tech literacy first. A too-common way to alienate someone you’re trying to talk to about online harassment is to overwhelm them with terms and concepts, especially if you’re stressed or panicking. If you’re unsure, try to gauge their familiarity with the technology and services the harassment is taking place on, or how much they know about the internet in general. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time online, it can be easy to forget how people could ever live without it.
Don’t overuse jargon. Ever see those scenes in Star Trek where they’re talking about a specific engineering malfunction and using made up words to be really specific? To some people, that’s what it sounds like when you try to explain internet culture. Not everyone knows what Twitter is, much less what it’s for or the cultural norms of using it. Instead of talking about the particulars right off the bat, start with a summary, focusing on what these terms and concepts might *mean* instead of the nitty-gritty blow-by-blow. You can always go into further detail later. Try to find common ground when you can with devices like metaphor or shared experience - the goal is to arrive on the same page, rather than just dump a bunch of information on their head and hope they can make sense of it.
Stress what the internet means for you. A lot of people who do not participate in any facet of internet culture may not understand what the big deal is, and a simple way to convey that is to tell people *why* these services are important to you. Social media is often a major support network for a lot of people, if you do any sort of work and self promotion online it’s a vital part of your workplace, and talking in these relatable terms can make it easier for people to grasp what is happening to you. If it’s applicable to your situation, it helps to have links to major publications that describe the form of harassment you’re facing, especially if an article deals with the same controversy you’re embroiled in. Mainstream sites like the New York Times and The Verge have covered these topics. This may elevate the import and seriousness of what you are talking about to those unfamiliar with what you may be facing, and makes it less likely that family or friends may brush it off.
Sometimes it just won’t happen. Some people are staunchly uninterested in anything having to do with the internet, and may be the type to dismiss you on that alone regardless of what’s actually happening in your life. It’s important to not blame yourself for this - cultural attitudes toward tech are a thing bigger than any single person, and ingrained ideas do not change overnight. It’s important for your own self-care to make sure that you’re not fighting a battle you can’t win - do not be afraid to disengage and agree to disagree when this is the case, where possible. This is, of course, more tricky in situations when you are dependent on the party who might now face tangential harassment from the people targeting you such as when asking a former employer not to give out your information, or when talking to roommates or parents after being doxed. In those cases, it can be helpful to set aside the justifications and simply ask if they can co-operate with what you’re asking of them.
Common sentiments you may find thrown your way, and some sourced counterpoints that may help:
“Just stop using the internet.”
74% of adults use social media to connect, build networks, and live online, and are an important support network for many people (source: http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/)
Social media is beginning to play an important role in how politics play out in the US (source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/10/19/social-media-and-political-engagement/)
An online presence is crucial to the success of a lot of businesses (source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/thesba/2013/11/25/how-much-is-online-presence-helping-small-business/)
“It’s just trolls. It’s just the internet. This won’t affect your “real life”’
48% of employers Google applicants before inviting them for an interview (source:http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/new-survey-reveals-lessons-for-job-seekers-about-interviews/324836)
Online harassment has ended lives (source: http://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/)
Cyberstalking often has the same emotional effect that in-person stalking does (source: https://www.stalkingriskprofile.com/victim-support/cyberstalking)
Online harassment and stalking can be a prelude to in-person stalking and escalation (source: https://www.victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/cyberstalking---dangers-on-the-information-superhighway.pdf?sfvrsn=2)
This effects everyone’s “real life” - driving off marginalized people from important cultural conversations will bias those conversations heavily (source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/let-s-be-real-online-harassment-isn-t-virtual-for-women)
Online harassment doesn’t always stop online and can include people sending you unwanted deliveries, spam, or even life-threatening things like SWATing (source: http://www.fastcompany.com/3007161/code-war/swating-prank-where-police-storm-your-house)
The internet is absolutely a real place. (source: http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/viewFile/140/170)
The internet is “real life”. We watch Netflix instead of television, use Google Maps instead of paper maps and send Facebook messages or emails from our mobile devices when we need to get in touch with someone. Making the distinction between the two is silly in 2015.
“You brought this on yourself.”
This is classic victim blaming. (Read more about the concept here: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Blaming_the_victim)
There is a larger problem of harassment on the internet. Fully 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it (source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/)
A thing to keep in mind is that other people behaving poorly and crossing lines is *not* your fault. You cannot control the actions of others, only your own, and no action should result in widespread harassment. What we are talking about is not being subject to mere criticism, but having your personal boundaries violated or your safety and well-being threatened in a credible and tangible manner. Everyone has a right to be online without having to experience this.
“Can’t you just call the police and leave it at that?”
Legality around online harassment is a tricky legal subject and laws take time to go into effect (source: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/01/facing-challenge-online-harassment)
It can be difficult to enforce and prosecute laws already in existence (source: http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/pittaroijccvol1is2.htm)
Law enforcement often doesn’t take online threats seriously or doesn’t have the resources to assist. (source: http://skepchick.org/2013/10/why-i-dont-just-go-to-the-cops/) (source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/do-police-take-online-threats-against-women-seriously/)
Dealing with it. It can be profoundly frustrating to not only have to deal with being harassed by a mob, but then have the people in your life struggle to understand what’s even happening to you. Again, make sure you’re caring for yourself, and not taking the blame for cultural attitudes or tech illiteracy that you cannot control. If need be, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further assistance, or consider using another service such as 7cupsoftea.com.
Talking With Police
***IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE IN IMMINENT DANGER, PLEASE IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY LINE***
The following advice is based off of law enforcement practices in North America. We will update with an additional guide on other countries & international law if and when we have enough of a knowledge base.
Navigating the world of law enforcement can be tricky for anyone, but talking to police about things that happen online can be a whole new level of frustration. Many people don’t have experience with filing police reports, or even talking to the police at all. This is doubly intimidating when dealing with online mob harassment, in which case there are (in most cases) no names, places, or jurisdiction to report on. However, you may end up wanting to speak with the police for any number of reasons, whether that be establishing a paper trail or tipping them off to credible threats to your safety, which they can oftentimes understand in general terms.
When is the right time to call? Sadly, there is no one “correct” answer to all situations. As stated above: if you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
The legal system can be a complicated thing to understand. There is an important difference between criminal matters and civil matters that a lot of people aren’t well versed with. Criminal cases are considered offenses against the state, and the prosecutor works with the police (not the victim) to file the case in court as a representative of the state. A civil cases are disputes between individuals where the plaintiff is trying to get the defendant to right a wrong, usually through compensation. What this means is that a situation where someone is slandering you or trying to ruin your reputation falls more into the civil category, whereas someone sending you threats would be committing a criminal offense. In the case of harassment, it could be both criminal (someone broke the law by sending you threats) AND civil (which caused you some kind of harm you are asking compensation for), but it’s all highly situational.
Police only handle criminal cases. For civil cases, consider contacting a lawyer through a service like avvo.com to get advice on how to proceed - a lot of them will offer free consultations. Some states have restraining orders or abuse prevention orders that apply to online contact, which can be helpful to people dealing with chronic abusers. While these sorts of court orders are generally handled as civil matters, often they require a police report as well.
Police departments can have widely different reporting procedures across the US. Some will send officers to you, some require you fill out paperwork in person, some have online forms for things like prank calls. The best way to find out your local PD’s procedure is to call the non-emergency line and ask about filing a police report.
Outside of that, there are a lot of considerations. Before contacting the police, it’s good to have a goal in mind. Do you want to establish a record of what’s happening to you? Are you afraid of being SWATted? Do you want to get a restraining order? Knowing this ahead of time can help you ask the right questions of the police, and make it easier to handle the situation properly. The trauma of talking about the abuse you’re facing, combined with the anxiety of talking with cops in general can be a nasty combination to have to fight through, and preparation can help you be more effective at handling the situation. Consider even looking at a sample police report to see what kind of information they might be asking of you. Try to think through your answers to these questions before calling, and keep them fresh in your mind. If you feel like it might help, write your planned responses down beforehand so you can keep your composure.
If you decide to contact the police, research your local police department. Find out whether they have detectives who are assigned to online issues. Try contacting them directly, if possible, but if the situation seems urgent, contact an officer who is on-duty and ask them if they can send a copy of their report to the detective or division which seems to cover these issues, if any.
If you are aware of where a particular person who is harassing or threatening you lives, first file a police report with your local police, then also file a second report with the law enforcement agency where that person lives. Be sure to give them the contact information of the officer assigned to your case, as well as the case number (if you have one.)
You may also want to file reports not only with your local police department, but with state authorities (likely your state attorney general’s office or state-level bureau of investigation), as well as with federal law enforcement. On the federal side, you can contact your local FBI office and file a report online at http://www.ic3.gov/.
Restraining & Abuse Prevention Orders
Restraining orders are intended to prohibit imminent harm. The availability and processes of obtaining a restraining order vary from state-to-state. If you’re unsure whether or how to get a restraining order, you may want to contact local domestic violence organizations, or contact the clerk of your municipal or state court to see whether they can refer you to an organization that can help you prepare a restraining order. While most restraining orders are filed without the assistance of an attorney (and judges usually understand that the people filing them may not be familiar with the legal process), it may be helpful to talk to an attorney to help you prepare a restraining order petition or to represent you at any hearings.
However, keep in mind that because restraining orders are intended to prevent imminent harm, you shouldn’t wait to file one. A judge is less likely to issue a restraining order based on what happened to you last month or last year if the person you’re seeking it against hasn’t contacted, threatened, or abused you since then. If you’re unsure, talk to someone!
If you’ve filed a police report, ask the officer whether you should seek a restraining order, or if they can grant you an Emergency Protective Order (if your jurisdiction has this.) If they say that you should, include this fact on your restraining order petition.
If you’ve filed for or received a restraining order, follow through with it. Go to any hearing. If it’s violated, report the violation to your local police department (and to the police department where the other person lives). If the restrained person lives in another state, report violations to local police in both places and to the FBI.
What sort of harassment are you receiving?
There isn’t much the police can do with someone telling you they wish you would drop dead, but if they use details like time and place they can work with you to address your safety concerns. If you have already been doxed, and the person sending you threats has your address or physical location, be sure to mention that. If you’re receiving harassing phone calls, law enforcement is a lot better equipped to deal with that and can act on those calls with more ease than they can act on web-based harassment.
Do you know who is abusing you?
When you file a police report, one of the first things you may be asked about is the identity of your abuser. It’s very difficult to get much done when you have no idea who is doing it, as the police will rarely go out of their way to do things like trace back IP addresses or work with social media. The more details that you can provide about who is doing this to you, the better.
Are the people you’re reporting in the same jurisdiction as you?
Location matters more than you might think. There is frustratingly little a local police department can or will do about abusive people from outside your state, and when you’re dealing with online abuse that is a major problem. If this happens, however, you still need to file a report with your local police department first before much can happen on a federal level - in the event that you do manage to get the FBI interested, they need this report to work off of first. If you are filing a report because you’re seeking a restraining order or abuse prevention order, under the federal Violence Against Women Act (which also applies to male victims), jurisdictions must give full faith and credit to valid orders of protection. Full faith and credit is a legal term that means that jurisdictions must honor and enforce orders issued by courts in other jurisdictions - so your order will apply across state lines.
When did this occur?
Be sure to have specific dates and times on hand for any incidents you are specifically referencing. The legal system runs on details like this, and you’ll save yourself some time and stress by writing down exactly when things took place.
Document everything. For evidence purposes, make sure you archive and backup everything in multiple ways (screenshots, PDFs, and, if possible, tools that can be independently verified, like web.archive.org) with a visible URL and date/timestamp where possible. These details are vital if your case ever goes to trial or investigation.
Bring in printed screenshots, not CDs or thumb drives (unless you are submitting audio/visual evidence, in which case thumb drives may be permissible - even still, see if there’s a way you can play such evidence back to a providing officer for use in a report). The easier you can make it for the police to view exactly what you’re talking about, the easier it will be for them to understand what to do with it. Make sure that you have all of your evidence backed up and are not giving the police the only copy - it’s easy for things to get lost in the process.
It may be helpful to organize your documents by keeping a journal. Who said or did what? When did they do it? How did you respond? Where can someone reading the journal find evidence of that conduct? This can be helpful not only in establishing a record of continuous conduct, but in exercising your feelings.
Remember to follow the above tips about describing your internet life in layperson’s terms. Save specifics for when the report is actually being written and don’t overwhelm the officer with details immediately - they will ask you questions when they’re ready, and it’s good to keep your answers simple unless specific details are needed. Consider writing down a concise, high-level statement of what you’re facing ahead of time, like “A group of people have been sending me death threats online”, “A website is hosting pornography of me without my consent”, or “Someone is planning on prank calling 911 to fraudulently claim that I am holding people hostage in the hopes that a SWAT team will be dispatched to my home, and I wanted to give you advance notice.”
Police reports are the first step in the chain of law enforcement’s involvement on any level, and having one for your records can be useful down the road, even if it seems extreme in the moment. Police are always obligated to take a report from you. If they seem hesitant or dismissive, just explain that you would like one for your records and are establishing a paper trail in case you need one later.Don’t worry if your police report omits or confuses minor details, especially in complicated and lengthy harassment episodes - the officer on duty may already have a hard time parsing the evidence and will likely be primarily concerned with the overall threat and major events. The purpose of a police report is to create a point from which investigators can look into your case. An investigator should contact you if this is the case, and they are the people you’ll want to show everything to.The level of cooperation and understanding of your local police department can be dependant on the nature of the officer on call to take your report that day. Some are more internet savvy or empathetic, other may be more glib, and their attitude can be affected by everything from the complexity of your situation to your gender or ethnic background. Remember that in keeping the nature of your harassment relatable and the jargon to a minimum, your chances of getting a cooperative and accurate police report without issue are much greater.
Different police departments will have different rules for obtaining copies of your report - some will give you one before you leave if you go in person, others will request you write-in for a copy a week after you file. Make sure you know your local PD’s protocols if you need to file a report, and don’t be afraid to ask. Ask for a business card from the officer if need be, as they will typically be happy to provide one. Police reports are created and then occasionally escalated to a detective if there is anything they can act on. Often they tell you that they’ll follow up with you in a few days if you’re not in immediate danger, but they forget sometimes. Don’t be afraid to call back and keep your case number somewhere safe.
More people than ever are aware of, and worried about, being swatted. This is highly uncommon in situations where people have not been doxed, and you likely do not need to take action unless you are currently being specifically targeted. SWATing tends to happen post-dox, and while it can happen to anyone, it is more commonly used against celebrities and people who are involved with politics, tech, or gaming. While the police always have to respond to calls where someone is in danger, calling them ahead of time can help de-escalate the situation if you’re lucky. Again though, this all comes down to who is sitting at the desk when your call comes in, but we have seen this work in the past.
While it is our hope that you will never have to deal with the eventuality of a SWATing, there are a few things worth knowing if the worst should come to pass.
If you believe a SWAT is imminent and have any dogs, lock your dogs into a crate (if you have one) or in your car. If the officers can see the dogs are contained they will typically leave them alone. Do not lock them in a room/closet as officers will clear all rooms, and when they open the door in a heightened state of alert, they are more likely to react negatively. Too often, dogs are casualties of overzealous SWAT teams, and keeping them locked up reduces the risk of an officer harming them.
During the first minutes of a SWAT raid, do not try to explain/talk to the cops. Let them determine they are in a safe place first, and that there is no present danger to anyone, then speak calmly to the team leader. Ask for him/her with a simple "Can I speak to your Team Leader?".
If you have any specific legal concerns, please contact your local police department or seek legal counsel from an attorney that specializes in what you’re facing. This guide is by no means exhaustive or the definitive authority on an evolving and complicated subject, and simply seeks to disambiguate a stressful process and share tips from people who have already been through it.