Many users go to great lengths to secure their social media accounts — but one TikTok creator is showing people that their profiles aren’t as private as they seem.
Kristen Sotakoun, 32, is behind a viral TikTok series devoted to “consensual doxxing,” in which she reveals the birthdates of people in her comments section.
Sotakoun isn’t a data privacy expert, nor is she experienced in cybersecurity. She is a restaurant server in Chicago who simply loves puzzles. And that’s how she views each of her consensual doxxing subjects — as a kind of logic game.
“Any normie can do this,” said Sotakoun, who goes by notkahnjunior on TikTok.
The idea came to Sotakoun after she saw a TikTok creator ask viewers to guess her real age. She responded with a stitched video — a video a TikTok creator combines another video on TikTok. Soon after, some of Sotakoun’s impressed viewers — believing themselves to be harder to find — challenged her to reveal their ages and birthdates.
She obliged some requests — and built her following. In just over a month, Sotakoun said, she grew her new account from 36 followers to over 257,000.
“I think there’s a level of smugness to everybody when they do comment, like ‘Wait, I genuinely think that you couldn’t find me.’ But people don’t know what kind of social media cracks they have,” she said. “And unfortunately, I think, even being present on the internet, at any moment in your life, you unfortunately will have information there.”
Unfortunately, I think, even being present on the internet, at any moment in your life, you unfortunately will have information there
— Kristen Sotakoun, the TikTok creator behind a series devoted to ‘consensual doxxing’
Sotakoun enjoys her new hobby — she said friends have always described her as the “FBI of the group” because she has been able to help them find information about potential Tinder dates or people they meet in passing.
These days, since having gone viral, Sotakoun gets a lot of requests from people to “find them.” But she primarily picks subjects based on accounts that require a more involved search process. Many of her subjects, for example, hide behind partly anonymized TikTok accounts that lack names, videos or profile pictures.
One such subject, Rei Stephen, invited Sotakoun to try to find him in a comment on one of her consensual doxxing videos.
Stephen had set his TikTok videos to private, so Sotakoun wasn’t able to use his content for clues. His name wasn’t in his profile, and he uses different usernames across social media.
Sotakoun admitted that the search was like playing a game on “hard mode,” but she was able to find Stephen’s birthdate using his profile picture and his public follower list. Using the profile of one of Stephen’s followers, she found him on Twitter and deduced his birthdate from old tweets. She said it took 20 minutes.
Before she made a video about him, Sotakoun reached out on Twitter to confirm that she had successfully identified Stephen and his birthdate from his TikTok comment. Stephen said he was “shook” when he saw her reply to one of his tweets. He asked her about her process for finding him.
“I was kind of hoping she wouldn’t find me at all, but I’m kind of glad that her video showed me the weak spots,” Stephen said.
While Stephen uses Tweet Delete, a service that regularly deletes users’ old tweets, some of his old interactions with friends remained on Twitter, which Sotakoun used to gather information about him.
Since Sotakoun found him, Stephen has deleted some posts and changed his profile pictures, which used to be the same across platforms, to add an extra layer of separation between his accounts.
“I always knew that nothing is as private, especially if I have public profiles, but I just wanted to see the lengths someone had to go through to even find my birthday or anything that connects me to my actual name,” he said in a message.
In a TikTok response to Sotakoun’s video about him, Stephen asserted that “friends are the weakest link” when it comes to keeping your social media private. Sotakoun said that’s the common theme among hard-to-find people online.
“It doesn’t really matter what you’ve posted, because you have a proud mom somewhere or you have a friend who loves you or you have people who are not as careful about internet security as you, you know?” Sotakoun said. “And that is what I’ll find. … It’s crazy, because if you just interact with something, interact with somebody, not even have to write anything, then that is a way that someone can find you.”
Even people who seem impossible to find — those with zero personal identifiers in their profiles — can be tracked down through their interactions, Sotakoun said.
Sotakoun uses only information that is readily and publicly available. Despite speculation by viewers that she pays for public records or uses computer programs to find people, she clarified that she uses only social media and Google. She has been told that her content is reaching data privacy forums. On Twitter, academics praised her for effectively illustrating gaps in social media privacy.
“I think the overarching lesson here is that it’s hard to have 100% control over your privacy in any context (but especially social media) because of the ability of *other people* to reveal information about us. You should know this and plan accordingly,” tweeted Casey Fiesler, an associate professor of information sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ultimately, Sotakoun said, she is happy she has found a niche she really enjoys.
In another life, on a different TikTok account she no longer has access to, she felt backed into a corner by the content she was making. Now, she makes videos that align more with her interests, and she is glad that people are learning more about their digital footprints using her content.
“It’s been very cool to have people say that I’m entertaining but also teaching them something,” Sotakoun said. “I think that’s like the dream on TikTok, to be an entertaining educational source.”
Source: NBC News