Have you ever been harassed in the street? Received a crass message on a dating app? Had a coworker make a comment about your appearance that just didn’t sit right?
You’re not alone.
With the #MeToo movement, it’s easy to log onto Twitter or Facebook and see just how many women are victims of sexual harassment. Whether in person or online, women everywhere have experienced it in one way or another. And with all the new ways the internet has opened avenues of communication, online harassment is more prevalent than ever.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, most online abuse takes place on social media. Although men are also subject to online harassment – which includes name calling, derision, and physical threats – the study found that online, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment.
In addition, more than half of women ages 18-29 report having been sent sexually explicit images without their consent.
This number is only growing, and while 70% of women believe online harassment to be a major problem, not many know how to prevent it.
Women are often targeted simply because they are women. Attacks are often sexualized or misogynistic, and rhetoric tends to focus on their bodies and sexual violence. This is both physically and emotionally damaging, and women are often intimidated into silence, preferring to disengage rather than put themselves at risk.
However, there are ways we can protect ourselves.
This guide was written with the intention of empowering women to navigate the internet without fear. We discuss common occurrences in which women are subject to harassment in their daily lives – on social media, at work, while dating, and more – and give tips and advice on how women can take control.
It is important for us to note that some of the advice given here encourages anonymity, rather than risking being targeted. While this may seem to run counter to the idea of encouraging self-expression, we believe that every woman should be empowered to make that choice for herself.
Our job is to give you the tools you need to do that.
We hope this guide encourages women everywhere to defend and protect themselves, and to stand up to sexual harassment, both on and off the web.
Harassment on Social Media
The majority of online harassment takes place on social media, which makes sense given how much time most of us spend on these platforms. Broad social networks, often combined with anonymity, leads to a reality in which anything you post, tweet, or share opens you up to potential abuse.
Below, we delve into the most popular social media platforms, and show you how to protect yourself from creeps, trolls, and stalkers.
Due to its public nature, Twitter is one of the most notorious social media platforms when it comes to online harassment. And it’s not just celebrities and public figures who get abuse heaped on them. There are endless stories of regular people who have been attacked, often for simply speaking out about political or feminist issues.
In fact, Amnesty International released a report chastising Twitter for not appropriately addressing harassment of women. In the study, dozens of women are quoted about the abuse they experienced on Twitter, many citing unsatisfactory responses from the social media site after having reported the incidents.
Often, the result is a silencing effect, in which women simply choose not to engage for fear of being harassed; many women end up censoring themselves or leaving the platform altogether. And for some – particularly journalists and activists – this can be detrimental to their careers.
Things came to a head in October 2017 when a series of high profile sexual assault allegations spawned the viral hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag – used by women to identify themselves as having experienced sexual harassment or assault – took over Twitter in a matter of hours, and made crystal clear just how prevalent these incidents are.
Soon thereafter, actress Rose McGowen’s Twitter account was temporarily suspended after she tweeted a series of allegations against sexual predator Harvey Weinstein and several Hollywood bigwigs she claimed enabled him. The violation cited was that one of her tweets included a private phone number.
But with so many abusive tweets against women not resulting in suspended accounts, many women had had enough. The resulting anger spawned the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter, which called on women to boycott the platform for a day in solidarity.
Twitter claims to have improved their system of addressing reports of harassment, but it’s still an issue, and there are still steps individual women can take to mitigate the chance of being targeted.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself on Twitter
1. Use Multiple Profiles
Women whose careers depend on keeping up a public profile may find it helpful to use multiple accounts.
Unlike some other social media platforms, according to Twitter’s terms of service, it’s perfectly acceptable to do this. In fact, businesses often do in order to target different audiences.
You’ll want to create a personal profile and a public one.
Your personal profile should have the strongest privacy settings. Since Twitter’s default setting is public, you’ll have to opt in to this.
Ordinarily, when your tweets are public, anyone can see them – even people who don’t have Twitter can potentially find them. But when your tweets are “protected,” only your approved followers can see them, and no one will be able to retweet them. Make sure that the only people you let follow you are people that you know and trust.
How to Change Your Privacy Settings on Twitter:
Click on your profile and go into Settings and privacy>Privacy and safety>Protect your Tweets.
Making this change retroactively protects your older tweets too. That said, it’s important to note that since Twitter has no control over outside search engines, older tweets may still be visible on the wider internet. So if you want true anonymity, you should open a new personal profile and protect your tweets from the get-go.
It’s also important to note that your replies to other tweets and mentions will also be protected, and will therefore only be seen by your approved followers. This obviously makes it a lot harder to engage in the type of public discussions for which Twitter is famous, so you’ll have to decide if having a private profile is worth it to you.
To create an additional account, click on your profile icon. Then click on the upside down caret next to your name. There you should be given the option to create a new account.
This second profile will be your public one. If you use Twitter for your job, this is going to be the one that represents you professionally, so make sure not to Tweet about anything too personal.
Another option is to simply keep this profile anonymous. That means not using your real name or photos of you, or tweeting anything that could be used to figure out where you live or work.
Note that you can’t keep both accounts open on the same browser at the same time. If you want to have them both open, either use different browsers, or use the Twitter-supported app, TweetDeck.
2. Report and Block Abusers
If you do receive an abusive tweet, you can block the person who sent it.
How to Block Someone on Twitter:
Click on the upside down carrot on the upper right hand corner of the tweet, and choose to block the user.
One of the problems with blocking is that it’s really easy for users to create new accounts – often termed “sock puppets” – that haven’t yet been flagged.
One way to deal with this is with the app Block Together. Block Together will automatically block any account that tries to follow you that’s been active for under 7 days, that has under 15 followers, or that your followers have blocked. It’s most helpful when you’re being attacked by an army of trolls.
In addition to blocking users, you can also report abusive incidents to Twitter.
How to Report Someone on Twitter:
Just click the upside down caret in the upper right corner of the tweet or account, select report, and follow the instructions.
Unfortunately, even though harassment is against Twitter’s user agreement, Twitter is infamous for not doing as much as it could to curb ugly behavior.
In fact, according to an analysis from the nonprofit, Women Action and the Media (WAM!), 67% of women who reported abuse claimed to have notified Twitter at least once before.
Still, it’s definitely worth reporting abusive tweets and accounts, since doing so is really easy.
Twitter does not currently provide a way of checking the status of reports of abuse. That said, as of January 2018, Twitter notifies you of their assessment once the report has been processed.
Geotagging is when your post includes the location from which it was sent. To keep yourself safe from doxing and stalking, it’s best not to use this function. Fortunately, geotagging requires you to opt in, so by default your location won’t be shown.
When you compose a tweet, you’ll see a location button at the bottom. (It looks like a dropped pin.) If you tap it, you’ll have the option of adding your location to your tweet.
Don’t do it.
Also, be aware that you could give away your location even without geotagging, simply by mentioning where you are. We know it’s fun to let people know in the moment that you’re enjoying a new gallery opening or a night on the town, but sometimes it’s better to wait and post about it later, when you’re not there anymore and can tweet about how much fun you HAD (past tense).
The most extreme form of online harassment is doxing. Doxing is when someone’s personal information, such as their address, phone number, place of employment, banking details, and even information on their family members, is published online as a call for others to harass them.
You may have heard the term for the first time with reports of #gamergate back in 2014. Gamergate was a movement spawned by the angry ex of video game developer Zoe Quinn, who wrote a blog post accusing her of having slept with a journalist in exchange for a good review.
Despite the fact that no such review was ever written, the post was taken as a battle cry by an unruly mob of mostly white, male gamers, who saw not only their favorite pastime, but free speech and their very masculinity, as under attack by so-called social justice warriors.
Not only Quinn, but women who defended her, including game developer Brianna Wu and journalist Anita Sarkeesian, came under relentless attack by internet trolls who inundated them with a daily barrage of murder and rape threats, mainly via Twitter.
They were also doxed.
The effects throughout the gaming industry were chilling, and women continue to take extra precautions for fear that they will become targets.
For instance, Tessa,* a competitive intelligence analyst whose work requires her to interact with gamers, knows several women in the industry who have been stalked and harassed, and often faces flirtatious and disrespectful behavior herself. Because a lot of interactions take place on Skype, there’s no hiding the fact that she’s a woman. Still, she takes pains to conceal that she works directly for a gaming company, and doesn’t reveal any personal information about herself like her real name or location.
Of course, those in the gaming industry aren’t the only ones at risk for doxing. Today’s incendiary political climate has resulted in many losing their jobs and having to leave their homes after having been doxed for attending alt-right or antifa rallies.
But you don’t have to engage in controversial political activities to be doxed. Some have been doxed “accidentally.”
For instance, following the Boston Marathon bombing, a Brown University student was doxed when he was wrongly identified as the perpetrator, and following the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, an Arkansas University engineer was doxed when he was mistakenly identified as a participant.
4 Ways to Keep from Getting Doxed
- Google yourself. A simple search will show you what kind of information about you is already online. If that includes data that can be used to identify you, see if you can have it taken down. Social media profiles have privacy settings that can easily be reset, and many websites, such as the White Pages, give you the option of opting out. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to scrub all your information from the internet, but at least searching will let you know what’s out there for others to find.
- Subscribe to a service that will delete you from data broker sites: If you find your information on a website like White Pages, chances are it also appears in other online directories, many of which won’t be easy to find. So if you have reason to believe you may targeted for doxing, consider paying for a service such as PrivacyDuck or DeleteMe.
- Check that your email account hasn’t been involved in a data breach:You can use the tool https://haveibeenpwned.com/ to see if your email address and password may have been exposed in one of the many large-scale data breaches that have occurred in the past few years. If they have, reset your password, and consider adding two-step verification to your account. This will provide an extra layer of security by requiring additional information (besides your password) in order to log in.
- Use a VPN: By using a virtual private network, you can encrypt all your online activity in order to protect yourself from hackers. VPNs work by tunneling your internet data through a third party server, keeping your IP address (and real location) from being exposed. Here are some VPNs we recommend.
5. Prevent Hackers from Taking Over Your Twitter Account
From former President Obama to Britney Spears, over the years plenty of celebrities have had their Twitter accounts hacked by people who want to harm their reputations and cause chaos. That said, regular people also have their accounts hacked with alarming frequency.
4 Ways to Keep Your Twitter Account from Being Hacked
- Create a strong password: This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people use weak, easily discoverable passwords. (Or maybe you won’t be.) To make a strong password, make sure it’s long, has capital and lowercase letters, and includes numbers and symbols.
- Enable login verification: This provides an extra layer of security when you’re logging in. Instead of just having to enter your password, you’ll also have to enter a code that Twitter sends to your mobile device. To enable this, click on your profile icon>Account>Security>Login verification. On the same tab you can also choose to require personal information when changing your password.
- Be wary of any third party app that requires access to your account: If you have any doubt as to whether an app is legit or not, don’t install it. In order to see which apps do have access to your Twitter account, click on your profile icon and go to Apps. To remove an app, click Revoke access.
- Watch out for shortened URLs: Given Twitter’s 280 character limit, it makes sense that lots of people use shortened URLs to link off the platform. The problem is, these make it hard to know where links are taking you, or if it’s to a malicious site. So if you want to be really cautious, don’t click on links you see posted on other people’s tweets.
A good indication that someone has been tampering with your account is if you notice unfamiliar activity, like following someone new or sending out tweets you don’t remember. If you do see this, the first thing you’re going to want to do is change your password. You should also report it to Twitter. You can do this by going to their help center and submitting a ticket.
You also want to submit a ticket if someone hasn’t actually hacked into your account, but has created a brand new one under your name. To help Twitter know that you’re really you, you’ll have the option of uploading an image of a government issued ID or other form of identification.
Rachel didn’t think much of it when during a routine Facebook scroll she clicked that she was interested in attending a concert by one of her favorite bands. But she was excited when one of the members of the band friend requested her and started sending her private messages.
The conversation started out casual, but soon he began alluding to her profile picture, telling her that he liked that she didn’t care that her nipple was showing.
Her nipple was definitely not showing. Or was it? Rachel had been using that profile picture for two years already, and no one had ever said anything. She enlarged the photo and carefully examined it. Maybe what he saw was the shadow from her top?
She told him he was mistaken, and tried to explain the shadow, giving him the benefit of a doubt that he was just confused. But he was insistent, and was soon asking for more nude pics.
In retrospect, Rachel knew she should have stopped the conversation there and blocked him, but at the time it seemed like just a weird misunderstanding. It was kind of a provocative photo, wasn’t it? Maybe she should have expected this kind of a reaction.
She tried to steer the conversation back toward his music and the upcoming concert, but he was like a dog with a bone, and wouldn’t let up on his requests for more photos. Finally she just stopped answering, but she felt pretty icky for a few days after, wondering how others had been viewing her all this time.
Rachel’s story isn’t so shocking. It’s not violent. No one got raped. It actually sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill social media encounter. But in fact, it’s the banality of it that makes it so depressing. Every day women get solicited by strangers and end up wondering what they did to cause it, and have to walk around knowing that while they’re just trying to live their lives, others are objectifying them.
Research shows that the emotional toll these type of interactions take is especially severe for women, who are twice as likely as men to describe their most recent experience of online harassment as very or extremely upsetting.
And soliciting sexy photos is just one of the myriad forms Facebook harassment can take. Women are regularly sent abusive messages and unwanted dick pics, and instances of being tagged in degrading pictures or even having fake profiles created using their names and photos are far from uncommon.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself on Facebook
1. Control Exactly Who Sees What
In past years Facebook has done a lot to update the platform to allow you to customize these options, even going as far as letting you hide your info from specific people.
How to Control What People See on Your Facebook Profile:
On your computer, click the upside down caret on the upper right corner of the page and select settings. On the panel on the left click Privacy. From here you’ll be able to manage exactly who can see your posts and how people can contact you.
Next, go to Timeline and Tagging. This lets you control who gets to post on your wall and who gets to see posts you’re tagged in. Here you can also change your settings so you get to review and approve any tags before they get implemented.
Another cool tool you can use is the one that lets you see exactly what others see when they look at your profile. That way you can be sure that certain people won’t see sensitive information if you don’t want them to.
2. Don’t Let Potential Stalkers Know Where You Are
As has been discussed above, tagging your location on posts and photos can be a way for stalkers to find out where you are. On Facebook, when you write a post, you have the option to select Check in, which will add your geolocation for any of your friends to see. It’s best not to use this function.
But Geotagging isn’t the only way people can figure out where you are.
Ever notice how after going to a particular store you suddenly start seeing ads for it on Facebook? Or you meet someone at a party and the next day Facebook suggests them as a friend?
The way Facebook knows to do that is because if you have their mobile app, and you carry your phone around with you (as most of us do) they know your location wherever you go.
If you want, you can actually see exactly where Facebook has been tracking you. This information is not public, so you don’t have to worry about your average Facebook friend using it to locate you.
How to See Where Facebook Has Tracked Your Location:
Go to Settings. Click Location on the panel on the left, and then click View location history. A map will appear along with with a log showing your location for as long as you’ve had location settings enabled. For some, that’s going back years.
How to Delete Your Location History:
Click on the three bars on the upper right corner of the screen (or lower right if you have an iPhone). Select Account settings> Location. Tap to turn off Location Services, and below, slide left to turn off Location History.
To delete all your past history, click View your location history and select the three dots in the upper right corner. There you’ll have the option to delete your entire history. You’ll need to re-enter your password to do this. (Resetting your password is actually another great way to prevent others from accessing your location or your Facebook account in general.)
3. Block Harassers and Put Creeps on Your Restricted List
Another helpful option on this page is to place particular people on a restricted list. By putting them here, they’ll be listed as one of your friends, but will only be able to see information that you share publicly. This is especially useful if you want to avoid confrontation with someone you fear will try to intimidate or take advantage of you.
Although it’s easy to say you should be straightforward and be able to tell someone to their face that you don’t want them seeing the personal stuff you post, we all know how quickly a situation can escalate when a certain type of man feels rejected.
So next time you meet a guy at a bar who insists on friending you and watching you accept his request, just slip into the ladies’ room for minute and stick him on your restricted list.
4. Report Imposter Accounts
Even though it goes against their terms of service, Facebook estimates that there are currently66 million fake accounts on the platform. One reason people create fake accounts is to impersonate other users. By using your real name and photos, an imposter is able to friend people in your real life social network, and then post harmful and untruthful content about you.
If you find a fake account using your photos and personal information, you can report it to Facebook and they should take it down.
How to Report a Fake Profile on Facebook:
Go to the fake profile, click on the three dots at the upper right corner of the page, and select Report>Report this profile>They’re pretending to be me or someone I know.
That said, a smart imposter is going to block you so you can’t see the fake account. If they do that, enlist a friend to report the profile for you.
Facebook has also been trying to be proactive in identifying imposter accounts, and has recently announced an initiative that uses its facial recognition software to flag new profile pictures featuring existing users.
It should be noted, however, that only new accounts will be scanned, so if there’s already a fake profile of you up, unless you or someone you know finds and flags it, there’s no way to catch it. Moreover, the only photos that will be scanned for your face are those within your friend, or friends of friends network – rather than all the users on the platform.
This calls into question how effective the tactic really is, especially considering how oftenprofiles are faked not in order to carry out personal vendettas, but instead to scam people out of money or promote products or political agendas. Specifically, recent probes into the 2016 American presidential election have revealed an entire industry of Facebook activity artificially generated to sway public opinion.
In these cases, one simple way to protect yourself is to make most of your photos private. If the person making the sham account doesn’t have access to your photos, you’ll be a less attractive target for impersonation.
5. Prevent Revenge Porn
In recent years, sexting has left the realm of kink and become a standard mode of flirtation. In fact, according to one study, 88% of the adults surveyed said they had sent sexually explicit messages or images at least once. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the same study showed a correlation between sexting and sexual satisfaction, and found that women often find it particularly empowering.
That said, sending revealing photos can be risky if they get into the wrong hands. Far too many women have found themselves the object of humiliation campaigns, in which vindictive former partners make their lives hell by sending intimate images to their friends, family members, and even employers.
Fortunately, Facebook already has an algorithm that identifies and removes nude images. However, in November 2017 they also announced a new, somewhat novel approach to addressing the ugly epidemic of revenge porn. But the idea, which is first being tested in Australia, is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Basically, if you suspect a particular image may be uploaded to Facebook without your consent, you fill out a form explaining your concern, and then send the image to yourself using the Facebook Messenger app. After assessing the report and the photo, Facebook will then delete it.
Because Facebook owns Instagram, this will prevent the image from being disseminated there as well.
There are a few issues with this approach. First, you have to know the images are out there in the first place. (Sometimes photos and videos are taken without the victim’s knowledge or consent.) Second, you have to have the images in your possession – which may not be the case if they were taken using someone else’s camera. And finally, you have to trust Facebook, and accept that a real person on their end is going to see pictures you explicitly don’t want out there for public consumption.
For many, knowing some anonymous techie has access to their intimate photos, even for a short time, will add to the trauma and anxiety they’re already experiencing.
Instagram and SnapChat
Photos were not the only thing that changed when Instagram started in 2010 and SnapChat in 2012. Online harassment did too.
By making your photos public, anyone can comment on your pictures. Although it’s hard to understand why someone would dedicate their time to being a troll, there are those who have a field day searching for photos to insult. Public body shaming comments and DMs (Instagram’s version of a private message) with explicit and vulgar language plague millions of accounts every day.
Besides trolling, many women are susceptible to revenge porn, dick pics, and other non-consensual nude photography.
With different techniques, you can fight back and even prevent some of these scenarios from happening in the first place. Yes, trolls and jerks will find a way to you if you’re persistent enough, but by taking the following steps, you can make it that much more difficult for them.
3 Ways to Protect Yourself on Instagram and SnapChat
1. Check Your Pictures for Identifying Data
There are some simple things you can do to make your photos and account a bit safer.
Let’s say you’re at a restaurant and want to Insta a picture of your dish. It’s nice to tag the restaurant because it gives them PR. But, by tagging this restaurant, you place yourself in that location.
Any stalker now knows exactly where you are.
Similarly, if you enable geolocation settings, you’re even more at risk. If you snap a picture of your caramel latte from Starbucks, you can be at any of the 27,339 Starbucks around the world. But if your geolocation is on, whoever sees your picture will know exactly where you are.
Snapchat unveiled a new feature in June 2017 called SnapMap, which shows the locations of all of your friends on a map. While this might seem innocent, it actually let’s others keep constant track of your whereabouts. Turn off the SnapMap feature, and you’ll save yourself from a lot of potentially ugly situations.
2. Don’t Use Your Real Information
When you sign up for SnapChat, you are required to provide your birthday, phone number, and email address – pretty standard for social media apps. But anyone with the slightest bit of tech savvy can then find that information through your SnapChat account. This makes it extremely easy for someone to take their harassment off SnapChat and onto email, WhatsApp, and plenty of other apps.
The best way to protect your information is to hide it. Create a new email address to sign up. Also, use a fake phone number (you know, the one you might give to a creepy guy at the bar who you don’t want to call you), and make up a new birth date.
Another simple trick that makes it much harder for trolls to access you is to change your account from public to private. This goes for both Instagram and Snapchat. Changing your account to private will limit the people who see your posts to friends, family, or anyone else you choose to approve.
How to Make Your Account Private on SnapChat:
Go to Settings>View My Story>My Friends/Custom. While you’re in Settings you can change who can contact you and who can see your location.
How to Make Your Account Private on Instagram:
Go to Settings>Private Account (slide right to enable).
If you need to use these apps to promote a product, your company, or yourself, then create a separate account. This way, your personal photos won’t get mixed up with your public photos.
That said, even if you do all that, rude comments could slip through the cracks. In that case, you’ll need to know how to…
3. Block Creeps Both Instagram and Snapchat have blocking options. Using this technique, you can block a user and then delete their comments
How to Block People on Instagram:
Select the person you want to block, tap the three dots in the upper right corner, and then click block.
How to Block People on SnapChat:
Select the person you want to block, tap the three lines on the upper left corner, and then click block.
Article courtesy of VPNmentor.com