Reddit v. Gawker: Is “Doxing” Illegal?

SOPA and Reddit
Reddit and Gawker are at war over doxxing.

First it was Reddit v. Digg, now it’s Reddit v. Gawker. Over the past several weeks, the two websites have been at war over an online privacy kerfuffle.  Redditors are upset that a Gawker author outed the identity of a redditor who actively participated in a section on the website called “jailbait”; the folks over at Gawker are upset that Reddit has some questionable sub-sections, like “jailbait.” And now a lot of people are asking “is doxing illegal?”

r/Jailbait and r/creepshots: Online Privacy v. Fighting Misogyny

The question of what constitutes free speech on the Internet is a hotly debated topic. And for Web platforms that rely on user generated content, it’s a tough call. On the one hand, no respectable platform wants to be associated with certain undesirable communities – like ones that take scandalous pictures of unsuspecting women and then post them online (r/creepshots). But on the other hand, free speech is a slippery slope. As such, many websites have to draw a sometimes uncomfortable line: so long as content is not technically illegal, it gets to stay.

Since, according to available reports, no women under the age of 18 were ever found to be posted on reddit’s r/jailbait thread, then the participants didn’t technically break the law. The legality of the creepshots section was a little less clear. For a while, Reddit  stuck to a “free speech is free speech, even the stuff we don’t like” stance. But eventually, the community’s opinion won out and both r/’s were closed.

But then a journalist for Gawker decided that shutting down the sections wasn’t enough punishment, did some investigating, and published the name of the jailbait moderator, calling him “the biggest troll on the Web.”

Redditors Don’t Take Kindly To “Doxxing”

The Gawker author committed a cardinal Reddit sin: “doxing.” Doxing is when you out a person, who uses an online alias, on the Internet. Many redditors view doxing as a dangerous form of vigilante justice. More than that, the platform has always taken pride in being a “safe haven for anonymous users.” Doxing doesn’t mix well with those ideals.

To show their displeasure with Gawker, many Reddit moderators have banned Gawker links – and the battle is playing out on tech blogs and websites across the globe.

Is Doxing Illegal?

Wondering if doxing is illegal? Well, there is no simple answer. Each situation is different. For example, doxing can result in a messy lawsuit if the name of the person released is wrong. The person who makes that kind of mistake can take it to the bank that they’ll be slapped with a defamation lawsuit.

In this instance, however, a retired FBI agent told CBS News that neither party engaged in illegal acts.

Need to speak with an attorney that deals in Internet law matters? Contact Aaron Kelly.

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