Online anonymity a challenge in fight against cyber harassment

While it is straightforward for law enforcement officers to apprehend specific individuals who engage in "doxxing", things get complicated when the identity of online vigilantes are unknown.
While it is straightforward for law enforcement officers to apprehend specific individuals who engage in "doxxing", things get complicated when the identity of online vigilantes are unknown. PHOTO: ST FILE

I support the changes in harassment laws to prevent online vigilantism, but further clarifications are needed (Online vigilantes who publish others' details could face jail, April 2).

While it is straightforward for law enforcement officers to apprehend specific individuals who engage in "doxxing", things get complicated when the identity of online vigilantes are unknown.

I have encountered instances of anonymous Instagram accounts and users on forums, such as Reddit, irresponsibly revealing the personal information of people they were "doxxing".

From my understanding, the police are currently unable to conduct investigations if victims cannot name specific individuals behind the "doxxing".

One example was the lewd Instagram account targeting junior college girls, which was exposed in January (MOE to take action against 'lewd' Instagram account targeting junior college girls, Jan 14).

Although it was not exactly a case of "doxxing", similar concerns arise because there is a possibility of harassment and there is a veil of anonymity.

The Ministry of Education said that it would take action against the account, but I believe it will not be easy, given the anonymity.

Under such circumstances, what can the authorities do to ensure such culprits are taken to task, too, despite their anonymity?

Will the authorities be able to order social media platforms to reveal the identities of perpetrators so as to help with investigations?

Sean Lim Wei Xin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Online anonymity a challenge in fight against cyber harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe