If you’ve followed internet news about cyberattacks, cyberbullying, or online vigilante groups, you may have heard the term doxxing. It comes from the word “doc,” or document, and refers to the practice of revealing as much personal information as you can about someone based on what you find through simple online searching.

There are two reasons users engage in doxxing, and in reality, they’re both wrong. On the one hand, doxxing is an increasingly common form of revenge; I don’t like what you had to say on Facebook, for example, and I just tell everyone your real identity, your real address, and more. At the same time, “hacktivists” have used doxxing to reveal information about individuals who’ve committed a wrong and gone unpunished. It’s not uncommon for violent criminals, business moguls who’ve gotten away with a crime, or other such individuals to have their personal information “leaked” by a group of activists who’ve gotten tired of not seeing justice served.

Of course, when doxxing is used as a revenge tactic in a personal way—as opposed to fighting for the innocent—it becomes an even bigger threat. There have even been incidents of doxxing that had nothing to do with a crime.

Since doxxing doesn’t require any specific hacking skills and anyone can be a victim, how do you protect yourself from this type of abuse?

  • The first step may not be all that appealing to many internet users, but some experts have recommended deleting your social media accounts. That’s a hefty step, but certainly one you should consider if you’ve already been a victim.
  • Next, in an effort to prevent doxxing, be sure you’re using separate user names on all your social media or blog accounts, and if feasible, use separate email addresses, too. That way, your one email address isn’t linked to all of your accounts, making it easy for a doxxer to discover more and more information about you.
  • Make sure you’re not oversharing online. Social media is fun and can be great for networking, but there’s no reason for people to know every detail of your life. Make sure your photos you share online are also not geotagged, which means turning off your Location settings in your device before taking the picture.
  • Finally, conduct an audit of yourself regularly. Use sites like Pipl or WhitePages to search for yourself and see what a would-be doxxer will find. You may be surprised to learn how much personal information is available to anyone who wants it.

Either way you look at it, doxxing is wrong, even if it feels like sometimes it’s the only way to put a stop to bad behavior. The end result of doxxing is making it possible for an infinite number of people to torment the victim, which is not the way to handle a situation no matter how deserving we may think they are.