Weaponizing Wikipedia: GOP Senators Doxed

Doxing is the practice of sharing private information about an individual via use of “publicly available databases and social media websites, hacking, and social engineering”–Wikipedia

As the world watched political and personal strategies play out in the Sept. 27, 2018 Supreme Court hearings, another digital strategy was being launched against GOP senators: doxing.

According to The Washington Post, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was one of three Republicans whose phone numbers and home addresses were added to Wikipedia biography pages. This occurred while Graham was questioning Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh.

Utah Sens. Mike Lee (R) and Orrin G. Hatch (R) were similarly doxed.

The Post published this screenshot redacting private information about Hatch.

But this was not the end of the Wikipedia incident. After the private information was removed from its website,  addresses and phone numbers were circulated again on Twitter via the account @congressedits, which The Post described as “a social media ‘accountability bot’ that tweets edits to the online encyclopedia made from IP addresses assigned to the U.S. Capitol,” taking a screenshot and sending that to 65,000 followers.

Type of site
Twitter account
Available in English
Website twitter.com/congressedits
Launched July 8, 2014; 4 years ago
Current status Online

Wikipedia states that @congressedits tweets changes made by “anyone using a computer on the U.S. Capitol complex’s computer network, including both staff of U.S. elected representatives and senators as well as visitors such as journalists, constituents, tourists, and lobbyists.”

While the news media consider @congressedits a digital watchdog, in as much as reporters instantly see what House and Senate aides are posting about their bosses, doxing remains a semi-anonymous weapon in the digital arsenal of partisan politics. Typically, content such as this can be traced to an IP address, indicating where the doxing took place (in this case, from a House computer).

Tracking the IP address may narrow the number of suspects, but plausible deniability is an alibi in as much as staffers can claim, “It wasn’t me.”

That’s partly true. It was the technology.

Once again, this incident shows the nature of technology. Purpose and programming–meant for transparency and public access–were weaponsized during live testimony in a historic proceeding.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine devotes several chapters to the nature of technology, i.e. that of a scorpion. It is what it is.  Here’s a citation:

The French-Maltese philosopher Jacques Ellul believed that technology is “a self-determining organism or end in itself whose autonomy transformed centuries’ old systems while being scarcely modified in its own features.”[1] In simple terms, that means that technology changes everything it touches without changing much itself. Introduce technology into the economy, and the economy is all about technology. Introduce it into the home, and home life is about the technology. Introduce it into school systems, and education is about the technology. Introduce it into employment, and you have the same effect.

Introduce it into an “accountability” bot such as @congressedits, and the bot no longer is about accountability but doxing to shape public opinion according to partisan politics.

[1] Jacques Ellul, “The Autonomy of the Technological Phenomenon, in Scharff, Robert C. & V. Dusek, (eds.), Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition, Mass: Blackwell, 2003, p. 346.

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