Experts in digital safety
The relatively recent trend in online doxxing and other related cyber security attacks allow us to connect the dots between the shooting and the online argument: Andrew Finch was a victim of a practice called “swatting”, in which a serious emergency situation is reported to the police, in the hopes of a SWAT team being dispatched to the address provided. His address had been given out by one of the men involved in the argument – Finch hadn’t even been playing Call of Duty that day, nor did he know the individuals involved.
Unfortunately, with the passing of time, cyberattacks like swatting and doxxing have begun to affect individuals and families more frequently. Security attacks are now so much more than a password being breached: doxxing, and other related types of cyberattack which maliciously target individuals, with potentially psychologically damaging effects, are becoming commonplace, particularly in the live streaming and gaming community. We break down what doxxing is, and other related types of cyberattack, to help keep your family aware and safe as they game and livestream online.
What is doxxing?
Doxxing has often been associated with taking revenge – it’s a tactic used by some online vigilantes to reveal personal information of criminals, to expose people who have controversial opinions, or to attack someone for their personal beliefs. In some cases, doxxing is used as a form of “hacktivism”, where perpetrators use cyber attacks in order to promote their own political agenda or attempt to bring about some form of social change. For example, one of the first large-scale doxxing events was the publication of a list of alleged Net-Nazis. with their email addresses, phone numbers, and home addresses on display. Nowadays, celebrities, journalists, and even regular people such as doctors have been doxxed, in some cases with serious consequences, including online mobbing and death threats.
Is it illegal to doxx someone?
Types of doxxing that kids should know about
Social media doxxing
Through social media, doxxers can collect names, addresses, places the person has been, their place of work, and the names of family members and friends, some of which are frequently used to provide answers to security questions. This leaves the person’s social media accounts vulnerable, and if the information is posted elsewhere online, can incite others to bring online harassment offline, sometimes taking it into the real world.
Swatting attacks are often brought against popular streamers, YouTubers, podcasters, and gamers. In just the first two months of 2022, podcaster Tim Pool, host of Timcast, was swatted five separate times, both at his recording studio and at his home. In early February 2022, Hearthstone streamer Alexandra Macpherson, aka Alliestrasza, was swatted during a livestream, with viewers witnessing heavily armed police officers entering the room she was recording from.
There are many reports that children have been involved in swatting – either on the receiving end, or through making the initial call themselves. In 2013, police were sent to movie star Ashton Kutcher’s home, and a 12-year-old boy in California admitted to having made the call – reporting that individuals were inside Kutcher’s home with explosives.
In 2019, after winning the Fortnite World Cup Finals, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf was swatted while streaming live on Twitch. More recently, in 2020, an unnamed minor from the UK was involved in the swatting of a 60-year-old man in Tennessee, which was organized in an attempt for the man to give up his Twitter handle.
How to protect your kids from doxxing
In a time where cyberbullying and cyber attacks are becoming more prevalent, it’s generally a good idea for people of all ages to keep social media accounts private. In addition to a private profile, keep the bare minimum of information on social accounts – details that reveal where your child goes to school, the places they frequently go, or family members, should be kept off their pages. In addition, turn off location tracking on any social media apps, or chat applications such as Messenger or WhatsApp.
2. Never give out personal information online, especially during a game or livestream
It’s natural that when kids play games online, they connect with people all around the world, who they can even form friendships with. Once a connection is formed, it’s a lot easier for your child to be lulled into a false sense of security, where they’re more likely to reveal personal information – as they would with any friend! Not all online friendships are bad, but it’s important to talk to your child about the importance of never revealing any personal information online, such as their address, full name, names of family and friends, and other identifying information. They have no way of knowing who’s on the other side of the screen, or who else could be listening.
3. Use a parental control tool
To ensure your kids are using age-appropriate apps, and to keep them off potentially dangerous websites, use a cross-platform parental control tool like Qustodio to help keep all their devices safe. With parental control tools, you can limit the apps they have access to, understand the type of content they like engaging with, and set limits on their screen time to help them engage in healthier digital habits.
4. Give them tools to manage negative emotions
Doxxing and related cyber attacks such as swatting are often carried out in a moment of anger or because the individual feels the need to take “revenge”. It can be difficult for children and teenagers to regulate their emotions, so teaching them forms of anger management can be a way to offer them valuable coping skills.
- Teach them to recognize what anger feels like when it surges, so they are able to regulate their emotions before the anger comes to a head. How does their body feel when they’re getting angry? Signs such as a flushed face, clenched fists, or their heart beating faster are all ways they can start to see their anger affect them physically, and react accordingly, such as by breathing deeply or taking a time out.
- Allow them to take their own time outs. If your child or teen is getting angry, engaging further in an argument or conversation could make their feelings even more intense. Allow them to take a quick break, where they can reflect and collect their thoughts together. This is a good strategy for everyone in the household – if you recognize an argument is escalating, take a break and come back to the discussion.
- Guide them to offline activities or behaviors that help regulate stress or anxiety. What helps calm your child down? Drawing, going for a run, or reading a book? If they don’t have an existing strategy that helps calm them down, work together to find one, so they can turn to it when they feel anger or frustration.
5. Keep the conversation going about cyber security
Be open and honest with your kids about the risks and dangers of social media and online gaming. Both have their potential benefits, but children also need to be aware of problems they could come across. Encourage them to come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable online, either on social media, or during a live stream. It’s important to remember that kids are learning how to navigate the online world – supporting them instead of shaming them for doing something “wrong” will help them feel they can talk to you openly about things that have happened to them online.