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Break the Internet

The ‘mean girls’ pile-on that shows ‘doxxing’ is not idle fun – it’s toxic

After girls were filmed giggling at another girl at a baseball game in Texas, social media users unearthed their names, their family members and contacted their bosses to get them sacked. Ellie Muir asks whether digital ‘justice’ has become just another form of abuse

Thursday 27 April 2023 12:23 BST
For many, doxxing has become an opportunity to humiliate random strangers using the language of social justice
For many, doxxing has become an opportunity to humiliate random strangers using the language of social justice (iStock)

Jackie La Bonita was taking a selfie at a baseball stadium in Texas when she heard laughter coming from behind her. Seated two rows back was a girl in her late teens or early twenties, who shouted “lame” in her direction and stuck her middle finger up at La Bonita’s camera. The girl then covered her mouth with her palm and whispered to a girl sitting next to her, who incessantly giggled. La Bonita posted the video of the encounter to her TikTok, and it’s since generated more than 30 million views. “Watch my confidence disappear after these random girls make fun of me for taking pics,” she captioned the clip, before adding “please be nice #meangirls”.

La Bonita chose not to confront the girls in person, but it seems she didn’t need to. Social media has sought “justice” on her behalf. After branding the two girls as bullies, people across TikTok, Instagram and Twitter rapidly made it their mission to track down and publicly reveal the pair’s identities, an act otherwise known as “doxxing”. The main “culprit” of the two girls in the video – let’s call her Abi – has been the subject of an internet witch hunt since La Bonita’s TikTok went viral over the weekend. Her full name and place of work – as well as the identities of her family members and even her ex-boyfriend – have all been published online.

In the name of #bullyingawareness, the doxxers have left approximately 2,000 negative comments on the Google review page of Abi’s workplace, with many urging her employers to sack her. It’s likely that Abi herself has been inundated with strongly worded or potentially abusive messages after her social media accounts were revealed by the doxxers. A person claiming to be Abi posted a video of a written statement on TikTok on Tuesday (25 April) apologising for her actions – as well as urging people to “stop being so hateful to my family, my friends and myself” – but its authenticity is unclear. Regardless, the most-liked comment under the video is currently: “In her words this apology is laaaaammee.”

Let’s not get this mistaken: cruelty and bullying are never justified, but thousands of people attempting to destroy a stranger’s life based on a 30-second video of some idle meanness is not a rational response. I went to an all-girls school, so I can spot unpleasant behaviour from a mile off, but online “retribution” does little more than continue a cycle of hate.

It seems ironic, if not actively harmful, that Abi has likely been bombarded with online abuse since her identity was revealed. In a peculiar attempt to fight fire with fire, the doxxers who were policing unkindness on La Bonita’s behalf are merely mirroring the same cruelty that they claim to rally against. What’s more, the girls in the video appear to be barely out of high school, and it seems entirely unkind to publicly harass the pair – and potentially derail their futures – over something that could be dealt with through a private message. There are ways of telling people that their behaviour is unacceptable that don’t involve a campaign of unhinged trolling.

While doxxing might seem, to some, an acceptable form of punishment, those doing the doxxing sometimes get it very wrong. One TikTokker, named Jocelyn Carreno, has claimed that she began receiving hateful comments from strangers after La Bonita’s video went viral, with doxxers assuming she was one of the girls making fun.

“Everybody was quick to think it was me, my cousin [or] my sister,” Carreno said in a TikTok video. “I started to get hate comments for my ‘crunchy’ hair and how I needed to go to the gym and how my upper body is bigger than my lower body. Dude, my palms were sweating... I was like, ‘What the heck is going on’.”

Carreno quickly proved that she was not one of the girls in the video, but remained horrified that she had been targeted in the first place. “What amazes me is that people keep on going at it, [and that] they haven’t put two and two together,” she said. “I never thought I was going to be put in this situation. Don’t spread hate. Get your facts straight. You guys were coming at someone else and it’s clearly not me, we look nothing alike.”

TikTokker Jackie La Bonita in her original video (Jackie La Bonita/TikTok)

It’s likely that the hate that Carreno received is only a fraction of what Abi has received. It also serves as an example of how apparently justified doxxing is often a disguise for trolling, or an excuse to harass another person on the internet. Interestingly, TikTok’s community guidelines define doxxing as a serious form of harassment. And while doxxing is not illegal in the UK, some of the practices associated with it have parallels with stalking or harassment. Those, in England and Wales, are both criminal offences.

Doxxing has existed since the Nineties, with its original goals being to hold different forms of power to account. In the age of Twitter and TikTok, though, this intention has fluctuated – exposing racists who endanger the lives of innocent people on one hand, but also targeting innocuous “villains” who spark a bit of viral discourse for a day on the other. It’s also an inherently lawless practice with no clear rules, so it’s no surprise that in the hands of teenagers on TikTok it’s taken on a sadistic tone that crosses the line into bullying. For many, doxxing has become an opportunity to humiliate random strangers using the language of social justice, with high school girls giggling on camera just as “deserving” of a public flogging as, say, a racist cop.

We should call out this behaviour as we see it, but it isn’t up to thousands of internet-literate but deeply unqualified people to take anti-bullying policing into their own hands. Destroying someone’s life for merely being a bit mean reeks of bad karma, too. Sometimes it’s worth asking: is battling unkindness with more unkindness worth it?

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