Computer c61e1f70ba7c8371acdd60d5854c1adb0d12727fa28c15b4f1aac3b4b47c5feb Technical Safety Guide

Chances are, you’re here because you’re either being harassed online or you are worried you might be in the future. We partnered with Take Back the Tech! to design a guide that will walk you through the immediate steps you need to take to feel safe and give you the information you need to make informed decisions.

Step One: Setup 2-Step Verification

Email, social media, and other sites allow you to turn on 2-step verification which asks for a code from an app or texts you a number to enter when you or someone else tries to log in to your account from an unfamiliar browser or computer. It’s a small annoyance for you, but a huge annoyance to someone who is trying to break into your account. This page lists current sites with two-step verification options, and includes links that you will help you set it up.

Step Two: Make Your Passwords Stronger

One of the first things that you can do to make your passwords more secure is to have more than one. In fact, the more passwords you have the better! Secondly, try and change your passwords on a regular basis (Tip: reset your passwords, then set a reminder on your phone 3 months from that day to change them, repeat). A strong password will be around 10 characters or more and where possible, you should always include upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Here’s a great model from xkcd about password strength:

If you have a lot of passwords, it can be difficult to remember them all. Don’t put your passwords in your cloud (such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud) in case you get hacked. Instead, make use of online password managers such as 1Password, LastPass and KeePass that create and keep track of highly random high-security passwords for every account you access online. On your mobile phone Take Back the Tech! recommends KeePassDroid.

Step Three: Search for Yourself

Doxing occurs when people search for and publish private or identifying information on the internet. It is a tactic used to make individuals feel unsafe. Doxing is easier than ever due to the fact that so much of our information is online. Everything from our name and email address to our home address to our bank information.

You can check to see if your information is publicly available online by using “people finder” websites. These are open databases that anyone can use to look up an individual’s information. You can request to have your information removed from many of these sites and it is generally a good idea to check them every few months to see if your information has been relisted. You can also set up alerts for yourself using Google Alerts; set up alerts for your full name, as well as any social media handles that you use. If this is not a responsibility that you would like to take on yourself and you have the means to do so, you can use a paid service such as Reputation.com which removes your personal information from paid sites, and then monitors them to make sure your information stays erased. You can also ask a friend to do all of this for you as it can be unsettling to see what information on you is out there.

Here are a few examples of sites that you can use:

Keep in mind, some harassers will search for your family or friends if they are clearly linked to you, so it is important to alert them so they can take precautions. We recommend sending them a link to this guide.

Step Four: Limit What You Share

One way of reducing your risk of doxing is to restrict what you share online. For example, do not mention details about where you live or where you like to hang out (and don’t tag a location that you’re in or post pictures that allow people to identify your location). Also, be careful about posting information that can be used to figure out your security question answers such as the name of a childhood pet or your maiden name.

Step Five: Taking Action

If someone is attacking you online, take action. According to Take Back the Tech!, many people do nothing because they think they are overreacting. We want to be clear: you are absolutely not overreacting. Being harassed online can be scary, emotional, and draining. Action doesn’t have to be taken alone; reach out to people at any time to tell them what you need and how they can help. Here are some more great tips, and keep in mind that many of these things can be done on HeartMob:

  • Report the abuse to the platform you are being harassed on. Use our Social Media Safety Guides to find out where you can report harassment. After you’ve reported to the individual platform, document the response and reaction of that platform.
  • Save copies of all communication. Even though the immediate desire might be to delete the communication and try to forget about it, record-keeping is crucial. If you are receiving harassing messages or comments take screenshots and put them on a flashdrive or external hard drive. You'll need electronic copies, as the coding that accompanies all cyber communications is the only way to verify authenticity. After taking screenshots you can also put them on HeartMob; we’ll hold them for you until you decide what you’d like to do. Better yet, put them on a flashdrive and on HeartMob.
  • Unpublish abusive posts, but don't delete them. After taking screenshots of abusive messages, posts, and comments, don’t delete them. These are part of the evidence that you may want to provide to the police, the social media platform, or the internet provider should you choose to report the harassment. Even if you choose not to report the harassment now, keeping records can be a good idea in case you change your mind later on, especially if the harassment escalates. Unpublishing or hiding them will make it so that you don’t have to see them on a regular basis.
  • Block trolls. If you own a blog or website and someone posts harassing comments continuously, you can block them using an ‘IP address block’. Blog providers like WordPress offer installable widgets, or check with your website provider. If you’re being harassed on social media, take a look at our Social Media Safety Guides for how to block trolls on an individual social media platform. Here is some information about group blocking such as Block Together on Twitter. Keep in mind, though, that if you block trolls you won’t be able to see if it escalates so feel free to ask a friend to track what the trolls are saying.
  • Contact the stalker's ISP. If you are being harassed on your own website or blog, you can contact the harasser's Internet Service Provider (ISP). Here is a quick guide for how to do this. Most ISPs prohibit using their service for abusive purposes. An ISP can often intervene by directly contacting the stalker or closing the account. Document this contact.
  • Ask a friend to moderate abusive comments. If you are being bombarded by trolls, save your energy for what is important and have trusted friends moderate or screenshot the crap. Or publish your case on HeartMob and let our lovely HeartMobbers help!
  • Go to the authorities. While we understand that this is not the best choice for everyone, more people being harassed online are choosing to go to the authorities, which has led to changes in legislation. If the harassment involves hate groups, threats of death or bodily harm and/or public postings of your location or contact information, you should consider contacting law enforcement right away. The more evidence you have collected, the faster they can act. Keep in mind, the law isn’t always as helpful as we’d like it to be and in some cases, can increase the level of trauma you’re feeling. Much of law enforcement is still unsure what online harassment is so be prepared to explain concepts such as doxing and trolling. If you need a hand, check out our Legal Guide.
  • Inform the people that you trust. Getting harassed online can be scary but you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. Keep the people in your life informed of the harassment and if it escalates. You’ll feel more supported and you’ll have people to call if you want backup with the authorities who’ll already understand the situation.
  • Inform your employer if necessary. If you think this person may harass you in the workplace or if they’ve published where you work, it's important to notify your employer. Your boss will be more likely to back you up if they later receive communication from the stalker, and they may be able to mitigate professional damage and providing evidence. Here’s a great resource from Take Back the Tech! on how to talk to employers (about halfway down the page).
  • Clean up the damage. If your internet searches reveal that the harasser published information about you begin clean up the damage. Take a look at the Crash Override page on doxing as well as this ComputerWorld article on removing your personal information. Some other key steps are:

If you need help finding out what different social media’s current privacy policies are or where to find them, check out our Social Media Safety Guides or this link from Take Back the Tech!

Your Reaction, Your Choice

When experiencing online harassment, you get to decide how you want to react and remember, there’s no right or wrong answer here. What works for one person won’t work for another and what worked against one harasser might not work against another. Pick the tactic that feels best for you and know that HeartMob is here to support you.

Here are some great tactics for dealing with harassment from Take Back the Tech!:

  1. Ignore them. We know that this is easier said than done. Sometimes it seems like the best thing that you can do is fight back and respond to every message or comment telling the trolls that they’re wrong or trying to clarify a point that you made. While studies show that responding to harassers can help reduce trauma, we understand that this can be exhausting and it’s okay for you to say it’s not worth it. You don’t have to engage if you don’t want to or if it’s becoming overwhelming. It’s perfectly okay to step away and ignore the trolls.
  2. Report them. Using our Social Media Safety Guides, find the place to report the harassing messages or comments directly to the platform. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. need to know that you are being harassed in order to help.
  3. Expose them. You don’t have to hide from your harassers. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can reclaim your social media by turning the lens onto the harassers instead of having them focus on you. Take a screenshot of your harassment and re-post it with the narrative that you want to be told. Your harassers should be held responsible for the things that they write.
  4. Engage them. If you feel like you need to have your voice heard, feel free to engage with the trolls. Remember, though, the point isn’t to fight fire with fire but instead to fight fire with water. If someone says something mean, don’t just say something mean back, this will only lead to a cycle of meanness. Instead, try and explain why you wrote what you did, why it matters to you, why you think it should matter to others. Feel free to bring outside research into an argument, having concrete information can help your argument.
  5. Seek support. You can receive support from individuals such as your friends and family, but there are also many supportive organizations that you can turn to in addition to HeartMob. Seeking support and telling your story to a trusted person who understands your experience can be a great way to help reduce some of the trauma associated with this experience.
  6. Go anonymous. Sometimes it can be hard to say what you want online because of the fear of harassment. If you are not using a professional account, you can use a pseudonym. You can also attach a different email than your regular one to your social media account. Do what makes you feel comfortable.
  7. Stay online if you can. It can be great to take a short break from the internet if you are feeling overwhelmed by harassment but the best thing you can do, ultimately, is to get back online. You should not have to adjust your behavior; the people on the other side of the computer should have to and they won’t if everyone backs down. At the end of the day remember, they are the ones hiding behind usernames and avatars (and probably a few fake profiles) in order to scare you. They are trolls, you are brilliant.

Ultimately, you are in control of this and you get to decide what spaces you want to interact in. Remember, online harassment is never your fault and HeartMob is here to support you, for whatever you need!

More Resources

Need more help? Want more information? Here are some more online safety resources from:

  • Take Back the Tech!: A global, collaborative campaign project that highlights the problem of tech-related violence against women, together with research and solutions from different parts of the world.
  • Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): Guide written by Jaclyn Friedman, Anita Sarkeesian, & Renee Bracey Sherman to empower readers to make informed safety and security decisions that are right for them.
  • The Crash Override Network Resource Center: Online Abuse Crisis Helpline, resource center, and advocacy group. Staffed by survivors, trying to make the internet a safer place.
  • A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity: A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity written by Noah Kelley & Safe Hub Collective.
  • TrollBusters: A digital tool to combat online harassment of women.
  • Violet Blue’s The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Award-winning author and investigative journalist Violet Blue shows you how women are targeted online and how to keep yourself safe.
  • Security in-a-Box: Guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders throughout the world.