Recent Instagram Changes Aim to Create a Safer Platform

Early last Fall, Instagram made a commitment to users to make sure it’s a safe place. Recently they’ve taken new steps toward fulfilling that commitment by launching a number of additional safety tools. These include:

·         Instagram Together a new safety center that catalogues all of the safety tools available to Instagram users, and lists international resources to support peoples’ safety (And we’re thrilled to say that techsafety.org is listed among them!)

·         Two-factor authentication will now be available to all users, adding an extra layer of security that helps keep your account safe even if your password is stolen.

·         Sensitive Content Screens will now blur out images and videos that have been flagged by users (and verified by Instagram’s review team) as sensitive in nature. These are images and videos that don’t violate Instagram’s guidelines, but that some users may feel are offensive or disturbing. As we know, sometimes online harassment takes the form of people mis-flagging the photos of victims in an effort to prevent them from effectively engaging on social media. We spoke with Instagram to see how they work to make sure the Sensitive Content Screens won’t be misused in such a way, and were told that the only time the screens will go up is if the content doesn’t violate their community guidelines but contains graphic or violent content. Examples of this include images of animal abuse, the impact of war on local communities, etc. Only Instagram can place a screen over a photo, and the number of times a post is flagged will not impact their decision-making process – so if someone is trying to troll a victim by mis-flagging their photos, their efforts will be ineffective.

We’re pleased to see Instagram work to make their platform a safer place for survivors of harassment and abuse, and look forward to seeing what’s next in their efforts to fulfill their commitment to kindness!

NNEDV Resource Highlight: Staying Safe on Facebook

Yesterday, Facebook announced that it would apply photo-matching software to help stop the spread of “revenge porn” – which is a pervasive crime that occurs across social media channels and the internet (however, we prefer the more accurate term “non-consensual sharing of intimate images”). We are proud to have helped advise Facebook in the development and rollout of these new tools to stop the spread of non-consensual sharing of intimate images on Facebook platforms. Read more about these new tools here.

Since 2009, Safety Net has worked with Facebook to help improve safety considerations and increase survivors’ ability to safely utilize the platform. We believe that survivors have the right to remain connected to their friends and loved ones and that everyone deserves to be safe at home, at work, on the street, and online.    

Learn more about staying safe on Facebook:

«  Safety & Privacy on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors of Abuse is available in English, Spanish (Latin America), French, Arabic, and more

«  Our quick Guide to Staying Safe on Facebook is currently available in English

«  Review additional tools and resources for survivors in our toolkit, Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors

If you have additional questions about helping survivors stay safe on social media – or any other technology safety questions, please reach out to our Safety Net team: safetynet@nnedv.org.

Do I REALLY Need to Worry About My Password? (Spoiler Alert: Yes!)

red padlock with a heart etched on it

Passwords have become such a regular part of our daily lives that it’s easy to forget about the importance of making sure they’re secure. We generally only think about password security when we’ve gotten a notice that one of our accounts has been compromised, or when we’ve forgotten our current password and have to make a new one. Rather than seeing them as a main line of defense against prying eyes, it’s easy to get into the habit of just being annoyed that we need them in the first place. 

This month, we’re taking a fresh look at password security, and the particular ways that survivors of domestic violence can use password security to protect their privacy and increase their safety. Check out our new resource “Passwords: Simple Ways to Increase Your Security” to learn more!

Twitter Announces New Safety Features In Latest Effort To Protect Users

twitter logo

Most people who have spent time on Twitter have seen the harassment that can take place within the platform - users taking advantage of the ability to remain anonymous and using it to intimidate, threaten, dox, and otherwise abuse people in a very personal and targeted fashion. In an effort to combat the often rampant abuse on its platform, Twitter announced four new safety features this month. The changes come in large part from the guidance they’ve received from the Twitter Trust and Safety Council (of which NNEDV is a member) and feedback from victims of harassment and abuse on the platform.

  • In the past, even when someone was permanently banned from Twitter for their abusive behavior, it was relatively easy for them to create a new account and continue their harassment. Twitter is now taking steps to identify those people and stop them from being able to create new accounts.
  • The creation of a safe-search mode that will remove Tweets from your search results that contain harmful content, and Tweets that are created by accounts you have blocked or muted. You can turn safe-search mode off and on so that you can still find the abusive content if you want or need to (to monitor an abuser's behavior, collect evidence, or make a report to Twitter, for example).
  • Abusive, confrontational replies that are created by new accounts without many followers, and that are directed at a person who doesn’t follow the account, will be pushed to the bottom of conversations and housed in a section called “less relevant replies.” The replies will still be viewable by those who want to see them, but won’t interrupt productive, civil conversations.

If an account holder has blocked you, but is continuing to mention you in abusive or harassing Tweets, you will now be able to report those Tweets.

We’re pleased to see Twitter take these steps to make their platform a safer place for survivors of harassment and abuse, and we look forward to seeing continued advances in promoting civility and safety online.

For more information on how to increase your safety and privacy on Twitter, be sure to check out our guide to Safety & Privacy on Twitter for survivors of harassment and abuse. It provides tips and guidance for increasing privacy on the social network, and for how to respond to others who misuse the platform.

Safer Internet Day: So What's the Deal with HTTPS?

computer with lock on it

While browsing online, you may (or may not) have noticed that some web addresses start with http:// and some they start with https://. So what’s the difference and why does that extra “s” matter so much for online safety and privacy? With tomorrow being Safer Internet Day, we thought it'd be a great time to explain.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypts the data that’s sent between your browser and the webpages you visit. When you see https:// at the beginning of the address, it means that the page you are visiting is secure. It tells you that it isn’t a fake version of what you were looking for, and that information you enter on that page is kept private.

For instance, Facebook uses HTTPS by default, so every time you go to log into your Facebook account, you should see that the login page is https://www.facebook.com. As long as you see that “s”, you can rest assured knowing that the username and password you enter will be kept secure and private. But if you see that instead it says http://www.facebook.com, it means someone has set up a fake version and is trying to steal your login information and gain access to your account.

For survivors who are especially concerned for their privacy and are carefully trying to ensure no one gets access to their accounts, this is an important tip to remember. In addition, there are a number of things you can do to help make sure the pages you are visiting are secure:

  • Most browsers now will show an icon of a deadbolt lock when you are on a site that is secured with HTTPS.
  • When you use the newest versions of Chrome or Firefox to browse the internet, you’ll receive a warning if you are trying to access a webpage that isn’t properly secured.
  • The browser extension HTTPS Everywhere can be added to your Firefox, Chrome or Opera browser and will automatically switch thousands of websites you visit from HTTP to HTTPS.

But remember that nothing is perfect when it comes to online security. HTTPS has its vulnerabilities - but using it is much better than browsing the web unencrypted. Most importantly, on Safer Internet Day and every day, it’s critical to remember that online security is a complex picture. HTTPS is just one of many tools available to increase security. For more tips and information on increasing your online safety and privacy, especially if you are a survivor of abuse, visit our Toolkit for Survivors on Technology Safety & Privacy.

Data Privacy Day: Honoring A Survivor’s Right To Safely Access Technology

person on computer

When a survivor reaches out to a domestic violence program for help, it’s often as a last resort and with much trepidation. Social connection, access to financial resources, and a safe home have often been systematically stripped away from them by their abuser. Smartphones, email, and social media accounts are often the last remnants of their connection to support, and can serve as an important lifeline when they’re in danger.

Yet we often hear from survivors that when they’ve reached out for help about the harassment, stalking, and abuse they’ve experienced through technology and social media, the only advice they get is to completely disconnect from technology and delete their accounts. But this places the blame in the wrong place. The technology isn’t the issue; the abuser’s behavior is. And worse yet, this response punishes the victim for the abuse they’ve suffered, forcing them to become more isolated because their only option is to disconnect. It also impacts their safety; if a survivor is in need of help but can no longer access their support systems, the risk of danger can increase dramatically.

This Data Privacy Day, we celebrate a survivor’s right to safely access technology, and encourage programs to proactively safety plan with survivors to help them feel empowered and safe with their technology use. We need to view safe access to technology, the internet and social media as a fundamental right of survivors. Technology is a necessity in our everyday lives, and removing it is not a feasible option. Instead, domestic violence programs can help survivors not only find temporary refuge, but also help them build a new skill that will empower them to stay connected, feel less isolated, and have communication tools that can help them in emergency situations.

The Safety Net Project develops tools and resources that help both survivors and victim service agencies become more informed about how to safely use technology, and about how abusers might misuse technology to stalk and harass. On Data Privacy Day, we encourage you to explore these tools listed below, and to reach out to us with any questions you may have about the safe use of technology.

  • The TechSafety App - This app was created for anyone who thinks they might be experiencing harassment or abuse through technology or who wants to learn more about how to increase their privacy and security while using technology.
  • Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit For Survivors - Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking often need information on how to be safe while using technology. This toolkit provides safety tips, information, and privacy strategies to help survivors respond to potential technology misues and to increase their safety and privacy.
  • The App Safety Center - There’s an app for everything, right? An increasing number of apps for smartphones and tablets are attempting to address the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking. With so many apps, knowing which ones to use can be difficult. The App Safety Center will highlight some of these apps by providing information on what survivors and professionals need to know to use them safely.
  • Agency’s Use of Technology: Best Practices & Policies Toolkit - The way domestic violence, sexual assault, and other victim service agencies use technology can impact the security, privacy, and safety of the survivors who access their services. This toolkit contains recommended best practices, policy suggestions, and handouts on the use of common technologies. 

Protecting Victim Privacy While Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency: Finding the Balance with Police Data Initiatives

One of the hallmark efforts of the outgoing Obama administration has been the Police Data Initiative, launched to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. The Police Data Initiative encourages local law enforcement agencies to publicly share information about 911 calls, stops, arrests, and other police activities so that community members can look both at individual cases, as in some high-profile events covered by the media, and at trends that might reveal disproportionate response over time.

It has been more than two decades since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed, and we have seen significant improvements in the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This success is due in great part to the efforts of victim advocates and law enforcement officials working together to improve systems. But as we celebrate these successes, we know this work is far from finished, and that there is still much work to be done to improve police response - particularly within marginalized communities.

As we work with law enforcement to improve responses to victims and communities, we must ensure that the privacy and safety of victims who interact with law enforcement is a fundamental cornerstone of those efforts. Police data released to the public has the potential to reveal victims’ identities and consequently put them at risk of further harm, harassment, or damage to their reputation. These concerns can also significantly impact a survivor’s decision on whether they even contact law enforcement for help in an emergency.

For more than a year, Safety Net has explored the issue of how to maintain victim privacy and safety while simultaneously supporting the overall intention behind the Police Data Initiative. These efforts have been made possible by the support of the Office on Violence Against Women (U.S. Department of Justice) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and in partnership with the White House, the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Vera Institute of Justice, and others.

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of a guide that outlines the results of these efforts titled, “How Law Enforcement Agencies Releasing Open Data Can Protect Victim Privacy & Safety”, which was authored collaboratively with the Police Foundation. This guide describes the need for victim privacy to be a central consideration in efforts to share data with the public, and provides specific recommendations that will assist local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to ensure victim privacy while increasing transparency.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing a similar guide written for advocates, as well as an issue summary that describes how the Police Data Initiative intersects with our work to ensure the safety and privacy of survivors.

 

YouTube’s New Tools Attempt to Address Online Harassment

Online harassment and abuse can take many forms. Threating and hateful comments turn up across online communities from newspapers to blogs to social media. Anyone posting online can be the target of these comments, which cross the line from honest disagreement to vengeful and violent attacks. This behavior is more than someone saying something you don’t like or saying something “mean” – it often includes ongoing harassment that can be nasty, personal, or threatening in nature. For survivors of abuse, threatening comments can be traumatizing, frightening, and can lead some people to not participate in online spaces.

YouTube recently created new tools to combat online abuse occurring within comments. These tools let users who post on their site choose words or phrases to “blacklist” as well as the option to use a beta (or test) version of a filter that will flag potentially inappropriate comments. With both tools, the comments are held for the user’s approval before going public. Users can also select other people to help moderate the comments.

Here’s a summary of the tools, pulled from YouTube:

  • Choose Moderators: This was launched earlier in the year and allows users to give select people they trust the ability to remove public comments.
  • Blacklist Words and Phrases: Users can have comments with select words or phrases held back from being posted until they are approved.
  • Hold Potentially Inappropriate Comments for Review: Currently available in beta, this feature offers an automated system that will flag and hold, according to YouTube’s algorithm, any potentially inappropriate comments for approval before they are published. The algorithm may, of course, pull content that the user thinks is fine, but it will improve in its detection based on the users’ choices.

Survivors who post online know that abusive comments can come in by the hundreds or even thousands. While many sites have offered a way to report or block comments, these steps have only been available after a comment is already public, and each comment may have to be reported one by one. This new approach helps to catch abusive comments before they go live, and takes the pressure off of having to watch the comment feed 24 hours a day.

These tools also offer survivors a means to be proactive in protecting their information and safety. Since many online harassment includes tactics such as doxing (where personal information of someone is posted online with the goal of causing them harm), a YouTube user can add their personal information to the list of words and phrases that are not allowed to be posted. This can include part or all of phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, or usernames of other accounts. Proactively being able to block someone from posting your personal content in this space will be a great tool.

Everyone has the right to express themselves safely online, and survivors should be able to fully participate in online spaces. Connecting with family and friends online helps protect against the isolation that many survivors experience. These new tools can help to protect survivors’ voices online.

Recognizing and Combating Technology-Facilitated Abuse

In addition to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October is also recognized as National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Online Harassment is Abuse

One misconception about technology-facilitated abuse is that online harassment is not “real” abuse, that the harassment or threats they receive online may not be credible or as scary. Yet, not only can online threats be extremely terrifying, but much of this abuse is often tied to offline behaviors, including stalking and assault. Victims’ experiences are often minimized as they are told to just “get offline,” “change their number,” or “log off.” When so many of us live and work online, disconnecting is not a sustainable solution. We instead focus on educating survivors on helpful safety planning strategies, including creating strong passwords, locking down their accounts, and documenting instances of abuse and harassment. However, for there to be true cyber security for victims of violence, we must work to stop the abusive and harmful behaviors and tactics that are often perpetrated online.

Technology-facilitated abuse is a serious issue that does not always remain online and could possibly escalate to other forms of violence. [1] The presence of technology in our lives today is also vastly different than 50 years ago. How we look for employment, stay connected to friends and family, or even use transportation all requires some interaction with technology. Studies show that 74 percent of adults who are online use a social networking site [2] and 81 percent of adult cell phone owners send and receive text messages. [3] Technology can give victims access to important resources and services and allow them to stay connected to their loved ones and other support systems. While safety planning provides important steps to give control back to survivors, creating safe online environments should also be a priority of advocates, service providers, technologists, and law enforcement.

In a survey conducted by NNEDV, 97 percent of domestic violence programs reported that abusers use technology to stalk, harass, and control victims. Nearly 80 percent of programs reported that abusers monitor survivors’ social media accounts and 86 percent reported that victims are harassed through social media. [4] One in four stalking victims report cyber stalking, which includes receiving unwanted emails, text messaging, and social media surveillance and/or harassment. [5] All of these behaviors - harassing, monitoring, and unwanted calls and text messages, creates a pattern of stalking and abusive tactics that aims to control the victim and to further instill fear. [6]

Technology is Not the Problem

It’s important to recognize that technology is not the enemy. Asking a survivor to log off, press delete, or not use social media, will not stop the abuse from happening. If we really want to increase cyber security, we must hold bad actors accountable for their actions. This means that we must address the sharing of nonconsensual personal images, take threats and harassment seriously, and call out rape culture that is tweeted, texted, or shared.

While there are some limitations to monitoring technology-facilitated abuse and proving who is behind abuse, [4] there has been tremendous effort in creating policies around privacy, victim confidentiality, and technology safety.

NNEDV’s Safety Net project is dedicated to looking at the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence, and addresses how technology impacts the safety, privacy, accessibility, and civil rights of victims. In addition to training, education and advocacy, the Safety Net project offers a host of resources and tip sheets for survivors and agencies working with survivors.

Get Involved

  • Visit techsafety.org to learn more about technology, privacy, and safety as it relates to survivors of abuse and the programs that serve them.
  • This month, we are challenging widely-held perceptions about domestic violence using the hashtag #31n31 – and this week we are focusing on technology safety-related misconceptions. (See the entire campaign on Pinterest.)
  • Learn more about Cyber Security Awareness month and other ways you can be involved at Stay Safe Online.

[1] Matthew J. Breiding et al., (2014). Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization – National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(8). http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6308.pdf
[2] Social Media Use Over Time: Pew Research Center http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/social-media/social-media-use-all-users/
[3] Cell Phone Activities: Pew Research Center http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/mobile/cell-phone-activities/
[4] A Glimpse From the Field: How Abusers Are Misusing Technology (2014)https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51dc541ce4b03ebab8c5c88c/t/54e3d1b6e4b08500fcb455a0/1424216502058/NNEDV_Glimpse+From+the+Field+-+2014.pdf
[5] Katrina Baum et al., (2009) “Stalking Victimization in the United States,” (Washington, DC:BJS, 2009) https://victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/baum-k-catalano-s-rand-m-rose-k-2009.pdf?sfvrsn=0
[6] Fraser, C., Olsen, E., Lee, K., Southworth, C., & Tucker, S. (2010). The new age of stalking: Technological implications for stalking. Juvenile & Family Court Journal, 61(4), 39-55. 

Voting Safely

With the presidential election looming just around the corner, there seems to be reminders everywhere to “make sure you’re registered to vote” – in various news outlets, in social media, and even on signs in coffee shops. What you don’t hear that much about are the potential privacy risks associated with being registered to vote. We believe that the election process is a fundamental right that everyone should have access to; and we also believe that people need to make informed choices to balance their privacy and safety.

Unfortunately, registering to vote can raise privacy and safety risks for some survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or trafficking. For many, privacy and safety are intricately connected. Every state treats their voter information differently; however, the personal information of registered voters is often accessible in a number of ways. For example, many states allow people to check their voter status online, which can display their current home address. A list of state-specific links to check your voter status can be accessed here. Survivors who are registered can check this not just to ensure they are registered correctly, but to also see what someone else could learn about them if they know some of their basic information already. Please note: you don’t need to fill out any information on this site – just scroll past that section and you’ll see the list of states and where you can check your voter status.

Other states allow candidates for public office, researchers, or other groups to purchase voter records with very little regulation on what information may be included. Some states have Address Confidentiality Programs (ACPs) for survivors of violence that include protections to voter registration information; however, these programs are not a solution for everyone. Some ACPs are not able to protect voter record information and many have strict eligibility requirements.

This complex web of privacy risks and protections makes navigating the voter registration process a challenge for those who are concerned about their personal privacy for safety reasons. Survivors should understand how their personal information is handled when they register to vote and how it could be accessed by others, so they can assess their risk and make an informed decision. Additionally, we need to work to create more privacy protection options so that everyone who wants to vote can do so safely.

NNEDV just created a new resource, Voter Registration & Privacy which dives into these issues even more. Check that out, learn more about how your personal information can be accessible, and, if it’s safe for you to do so, get out and vote this November!