Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Doxxing, Silencing, and Gaslighting

There are three key words that are frequently used incorrectly, and I'd like to clarify their actual definitions and what is and is not included in their definitions.

We are going to be discussing doxxing, silencing, and gaslighting. These topics may be uncomfortable for some readers, and reader discretion is advised.

I am going into these three terms because words matter. Doxxing, silencing, and gaslighting are three very serious concepts, and each of them can be extremely damaging to their victims. When serious words like this are cheapened with casual and opportunistic use, it not only harms the person they are being used against, but it harms ever true victim. When people use gaslighting to mean simple denial, it means that a victim of real gaslighting may go without assistance because it is not recognized due to the concept being confused. When silencing is used to refer to someone who simply disagrees, it does a great disservice to real victims who are truly silenced.

gerund or present participle: doxxing
  1. search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.

    "hackers and online vigilantes routinely dox both public and private figures"

Put another way, doxxing is taking something from the space of being an online discussion to the space of being a physical threat. The intent of doxxing is generally to provide information which would encourage less stable individuals to threaten to do harm to the victim of the doxxing.
Doxxing is something like Henry II saying
Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
It allows an malefactor to threaten or harm a
person without being technically tied to it.
Sharing home address, workplace, and even personal phone number could be a form of doxxing.

Another form of doxxing would be revealing the identity of an individual who is otherwise anonymous. For example, if one was in a dispute with an individual on a private online forum on which everyone is identified by screen name and chose to reveal what their real name was, that would be doxxing. Arguably, the reverse would be true. If you were to reveal the anonymous screen name of an individual whose real name was out in public, it would also be revealing information which someone could use to harm them.

The key element of doxxing is that the information is something which is not commonly available and can be used to facilitate harm.

Thus, things that are not doxxing: referring to an individual who is already in public discourse by name, sharing a phone number in the form of 555-555-xxxx, or discussing any information which is already publicly known.

gerund or present participle: silencing
  1. cause to become silent; prohibit or prevent from speaking.

    "the team's performance silenced their critics"
There are real victims who have been really silenced, prevented from speaking out which has allowed there to be other victims, and it is a terrible thing when this happens. However, it is also a term used by certain individuals to attempt to shut down discussions.

An overt threat would be a clear case of silencing. Publicly punishing someone who speaks out would also have what is called a "chilling effect," which is a form of silencing.

Silencing could also take the form of social pressure. For example, if members of an online community were to insist that an article that they disagreed with be taken down because it was "offensive" but the only offense was that they disagreed, that would be another form of silencing.

Let us consider, however, the following conversation:

Alice: I don't like broccoli.
Bob: I don't like broccoli either.
Carol: Nobody I know likes broccoli. I don't think anyone likes it.
Dave: I like broccoli, but I understand that you don't like it.

Dave is not silencing Alice or Bob. He is countering Carol's assertion that no one she knows likes broccoli, and he is contesting the assertion that no one likes it. This is disagreement, not silencing.

After this article was posted, a reader asked Suppose Dave we’re to say “I like broccoli, and I think it’s crazy that anyone doesn’t”

This would still not be silencing because Dave does not have any power to prevent others from speaking. He may be insulting anyone who doesn't like broccoli, but he is in no way preventing them from holding or sharing their opinions.

gerund or present participle: gaslighting
  1. manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

    "in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband"

According to PRI, "The term "gaslighting" can be traced back to a 1938 play. British playwright Patrick Hamilton created "Gas Light," a mystery/thriller that premiered in London and played there for six months. But most folks familiar with the history of the term think back to the 1944 film adaptation of the play, 'Gaslight.'"

Gaslighting is not simply lying. It is actually repeated manipulations to cause a person to question their sanity usually by means of making their question their memory or, less commonly, their senses.

Let's discuss some examples. The first is not necessarily gaslighting exactly, but for anyone familiar with Star Trek: the Next Generation, it may provide a good starting point.

In the Star Trek: TNG episode Chain of Command, Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians. He is placed in a room with Gul Madred. Behind Gul Madred are four lights. Picard is fitted with a pain giving device, and every time Gul Madred pushes the button, Picard experiences severe pain. Gul Madred asks Picard how many lights there, and when Picard answers that there are 4, he is shocked and informed that there are 5. When Picard is finally rescued, he says to Counselor Troi that by the time it was over, he started to think he really saw 5 lights.

This was always a terribly disturbing episode of the series for me, but it was also brilliantly written and well explains the concept of mental manipulation.

Not every form of gaslighting needs to be as all encompassing as being held by an enemy interrogator.

Here is another, more real world example of gaslighting. An abusive man punches his girlfriend. The next day, he denies that it happened. When she argues that it did happen, he asks to see the bruise, and insists that she is making it up. He might show her a photo her took of her that night which shows no bruise, or provide supporting details like what they did that night which does not leave a space for the assault to have happened.

This is why gaslighting is often conflated with denying abuse. While many abusers who deny their abuse may do so in a way that constitutes gaslighting, it does not mean that all denials are gaslighting.

The key element of gaslighting is the intent to cause the victim to question their sanity or at least their senses. Simply suggesting that you remember something differently, suggesting that details may have been different, or that someone may not have been cognizant of a certain fact is not gaslighting.

In most cases, although not all, gaslighting is a pattern of behavior. This is one of the key ways to tell insistence of innocence from gaslighting. Merely disputing a single point of fact does not, on its own, become gaslighting. A man responding to a rape allegation with "I did not do it," is not gaslighting, he is merely proclaiming innocence.

Words have meaning and words have power. When we use words improperly to advance an agenda, we cheapen the meaning of those words and do a disservice to many in our community.

Word choice note: There was a concern about my use of the word "victim." I chose to use the word victim rather than survivor in this article because, as far as I understand, a survivor is one who was a victim is no longer a victim but a survivor of the situation. However, while the situation is ongoing, the individual could still reasonably referred to as a victim. I suspect that any 3 people could have 7 opinions on this, but this is my reasoning in my word choice. I make this note so we can focus on the concerns directly discussed in the article.

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