If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that we are reliant on technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has us depending on our phones, laptops and other devices for work, school, socialization- even ordering our groceries! There is no denying that technology has become an absolute necessity. Now that we are more dependent on technology than ever before, how are you keeping yourself safe? If you have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) you may need to take extra steps to ensure your online safety.
Set Your Boundaries
In order to keep yourself safe online, you need to have an honest conversation with yourself. What are your realistic boundaries for your technology use? It is unlikely that you will be able to drop all technology, so think about how you can safely use the platforms you’d like to continue using. To see how abusers can utilize technology, visit this blog post. Set some guidelines for yourself that can be used across all social media, communication, school/work and gaming platforms. Some examples could include:
- Will I use my real name on these sites? Most platforms require users to submit a full name, but you may not have to use your legal or full name. Using alternatives such as your middle name, a different spelling of your first name or omitting your last name may make it more difficult for an abuser to find your accounts.
- Will I share photos of myself? Even a simple selfie may reveal personal information about you (is your work badge in the photo? Is there a noticeable landmark in the background?). Would your abuser be able to use any shared photos in a way that harms you? Decide if it is safe to share your photo online in any capacity.
- Who will I allow to access these sites? You may want to have many followers, but unfortunately, you don’t know who may be behind these accounts. Determine if you will only allow accounts that you can verify are your family and friends, or if you will add anyone who asks to follow you. Your abuser may create fake accounts, or have people access your sites on their behalf.
If you suspect your abuser had access to your accounts or passwords, you should consider changing your passwords. Be sure to change it to a password your abuser does not know. Visit this link to learn more about safe passwords. When given the option, you can use two-factor authentication for your accounts. This means that you must use your password and a unique code will be sent to your phone to complete the log in process. When using two-factor authentication it increases your privacy as well as letting you know when someone is trying to access your account.
Email accounts are an essential form of communication- we use them for everything from personal communication to accessing your bank account. An email account can reveal an incredible amount of personal information while also allowing access to all accounts using the email address. After ending an abusive relationship, consider changing your email password. If you believe your school or work email address has been compromised, contact a supervisor, HR, network administrator or advisor for assistance. You may also want to get in the habit of changing your email password periodically. You may even consider creating a new email account to ensure your abuser does not have access to your information.
Privacy settings vary from site to site but generally include things such as who can view your information, what types of information is shared and what types of data is stored. You may have very loose privacy settings, or your abuser may have changed your settings when they had access to your account. Research privacy settings for each of your platforms and frequently used websites and make changes as necessary. Some things to look out for include location sharing (does this website share my location in real time, or will it include my location in posts?), post visibility (can anyone see this or just my friends?) and notification settings (will I know if someone new views my information?). Review your privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure nothing has changed. Online safety requires frequently monitoring and Here are links to information about popular social media platform’s privacy settings.
- Google your name– occasionally search for your name, or names your abuser may look for you under. Take note of the information that appears. If you are able, remove any unnecessary information by cancelling unused accounts or contacting webpages.
- Deactivate accounts– if a certain site is compromising your safety, you may choose to quit the site altogether. Make sure you choose to deactivate an account, not just log off.
- Talk to your friends– your friends need to understand the precautions you are taking. Ensure they do not tag you in photos or share your location in a post.
- Never share your location– don’t mention where you are, even if you think a post is private. Screen shots can be taken of your post without your knowledge and this information can be shared with your abuser. If it is necessary to share a post with a location, wait until you have left the location (example- posting vacation photos a week after you have returned).
- Nothing is truly private- even if you utilize every safety tip and privacy setting, nothing is completely private online. Accounts/devices can be hacked, screenshots can be taken, information can be shared and webpages can be tracked. If you suspect your abuser is using technology to harm you, contact the appropriate authorities and reach out to a trained advocate at 1-800-931-SAFE (7233)