Roosh is a level 10 creep, no doubt about it. But doxing him, or his supporters, isn’t going to help.
Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh, the guy who heads up “neomasculinist” website Return of Kings, that informs people of the dangers of “shrieking feminist harpies […] ruining the society as a whole”, has cancelled his global meetups in the wake of fierce criticism.
But he’ll be back – he’s already planning more secure meetups since “the world is moving against us”.
The accusations levelled against Roosh – mostly calling him out for being a deeply misogynistic fucktrumpet who indoctrinates men into believing women are conquests to master instead of people to respect – are perfectly valid.
But when part of the backlash included a Daily Mail article that published photos of his mum’s house, where (yes, hilariously) he’s been living, and Anonymous calling for Roosh and his supporters to be doxed, I got uncomfortable.
A revenge tactic, doxing is the publishing of “docs”, or identifying documents, about someone. Its Eastern counterpart, the human flesh search engine, posts information about people who transgress cultural norms, and encourages networks of people to track them down so they can be named and shamed.
Doxing is a strategy that originated in chatroom culture, and involves deliberately removing the context around someone’s words or actions, and publicising their details in order to generate outrage, and open them up to a much larger group of people who could harm them.
If someone’s comments online are reframed to connect them with their workplace, they could get fired. If their Twitter account or email address becomes known, they could be flooded with harassing messages. If their home address becomes public, people could show up at their front door.
Social media platforms have yet to develop an effective solution for the relentless harassment and abuse that plague online environments, particularly aimed at outspoken women. When platforms aren’t doing enough, and law enforcement seem to ignore the problem, it can seem like justice when someone doxes a bully.
But it only serves to damage the broader online environment, which has been recognised by a proposed bill in Utah that seeks to criminalise doxing.
Although the bill has been rightly criticised for having the potential to stop journalists from being able to hold public figures accountable, it highlights the damage doxing can do.
Here’s why doxing isn’t the right move:
Doxing Punishes People Disproportionately To Their Actions
When Justine Sacco was fired and humiliated for tweeting an inappropriate joke, many delighted in her getting her comeuppance. There were also people who felt that while the joke was bad taste, but it didn’t seem fair that she lost her job over it. In his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson concludes that “we are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside of it”. Doxing can lead to people being scrutinised by a far larger group than is necessary.
Doxing Sends The Message That Doxing Works
The more doxing happens, the more people hear about it – and start thinking it sounds like a good idea. If disagreeing with Roosh’s views on women leads someone to dox him in retaliation, it tells people that doxing is a powerful weapon.
As Andrew Todd said on Twitter, using an abuser’s own abuse tactics against them only reinforces the notion that their tactics “work”.
Doxing Makes People Who Depend On Pseudonyms More Vulnerable
And it drives them away from online participation.
People use pseudonyms to contextualise their communication. It’s important in an online environment where talk isn’t a localised utterance – it’s permanently recorded, and able to be amplified.
If people risk having things they whisper to just a few people being shouted across the internet, they might stop talking altogether.
Chilling speech is incredibly difficult to measure, because we don’t hear from people who log off, sit down, and shut up. But there’s evidence that being put in the spotlight can lead to the wrong kind of attention: a large number of women don’t want to be featured on talk show Q&A because of online harassment and abuse, according to the show’s producer.
Being part of a social media environment in which you might be doxed if enough people disagree with you is off-putting at best, and eroding important voices at worst.
Doxing Turns Issues Into Personality Politics
If Roosh was doxed and punished, it wouldn’t stamp out every incidence of men’s rights activism – it’s a broad, complex movement that won’t be shut down by exposing one person to violent retribution.
Unfortunately, even without Roosh or Return of Kings, there’d still be plenty of support for men’s rights activism, pick-up artists, or “sexual strategy” subreddit The Red Pill.
It’s hard, slow work to patiently build a strong argument. It’s easy to feel helpless when platforms don’t offer effective tools against abuse, and to strike out at individuals to get the satisfaction of taking someone down.
But doxing costs us all more than Roosh, and people like him, are worth.
Emily van der Nagel is writing a PhD on social media pseudonymity at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. You can follow her on Twitter here.