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Anti-doxing bill would help protect children from online attacks

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

A proposed law in Kentucky that would make it illegal for someone to publish the personal information of a child online with the intent to harass them also sheds light on how far out of control people can get on social media.

Senate Bill 240, which would ban “doxing” — which means to “search for and publish private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent” — of minors passed the Senate 26-10 Thursday. Sen. Wil Schroder, a Northern Kentucky Republican and candidate for attorney general, sponsored the bill.

“Schroder’s bill would make it a crime for someone to … disseminate personal information, about a minor on the internet that could be used to identify someone with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten the individual,” the Courier-Journal reported. “Such information includes first and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses, school locations and email or telephone numbers, according to SB 240.”

Breaking the proposed law could result in misdemeanor charges, which could be elevated to a felony if sharing the information resulted in physical harm or monetary loss.

The bill comes on the heels of a highly publicized incident of doxing and subsequent harassment, which involved a Kentucky student.

Nick Sandmann, a 16-year-old Covington Catholic student, saw his name smeared across social media platforms for weeks after he was involved in an incident of misinformation gone awry.

Sandmann and his family received death threats and harassment when his face went viral after a run in with Native American protester Nathan Phillips in January.

A video of Sandmann made its way to the internet and spread quickly showing him with a smirk on his face and wearing “Make America Great Again” hat, as he appeared to be standing up or in the way of Phillips, who was marching and playing his drum in Washington D.C., where Sandmann and his classmates were on a field trip. 

After Sandmann endured personal attacks from across the country and his school closed briefly because of security threats, more extensive video footage showed a different side of the story — one where Sandmann found himself unexpectedly in the face of a protester and he allegedly attempted to keep the peace.

It was a situation that proved there are many sides to every story, and few know precisely what happened that day. Regardless, the repercussions have been harsh for Sandmann, and shed light on a problem with a world consumed by social media and sharing scandals — true or not.

Sandmann and his family have filed suit against multiple media companies claiming he was vilified after the viral video and false breaking news reports. According to NBC News, they are suing The Washington Post for $250 million for “falsely labeling Nick Sandmann as a racist” and are threatening legal action against several other media outlets, including The Associated Press.

This anti-doxing bill would seek to protect children from what happened to Sandmann earlier this year, and offer families a way to seek recourse against those who shared the information.

With less than a week left in this session, the bill still has to pass the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Some argue the bill might be too broad and may be unconstitutional. But doxing is a lousy thing to do in general, especially when it comes to minors.

While it remains to be seen whether this bill will fit the proper mold for offering protections to minors against the vilification efforts of social media, there is no question legislatures and social media companies must come up with solutions to the dangers posed with these sorts of problems.

Posting such information already violates user agreements with most social media platforms, but the repercussions for breaking those agreements need to be severe enough to balance out the negative repercussions the victims of doxing face — especially children.

Further, this scenario should offer an example to social media users of what can happen when we all get a little too “share happy” and fired up about something that ends up not being a complete assessment of the scenario.

We all should be reminded to take a step back and consider whether there might be more information before we judge someone or some scenario.

We would not only become more informed news consumers, but we could save people like Sandmann and others some of the grief and potential violence that erupts in the aftermath when bad information goes viral.

We can all learn to be more thoughtful about what we’re taking in and then putting back out into the social media-sphere.