Facebook and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) teamed up to create a guide on privacy and safety aimed at survivors of abuse. While the guide may be particularly helpful for survivors of domestic violence, dating abuse, cyber-stalking and the like, it is also the clearest, most informative guide to Facebook's privacy and safety features we've seen in quite some time.
"Privacy and safety go hand in hand for survivors. The most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when they are preparing to leave or have left an abusive partner," a post by Cindy Southworth, NNEDV's vice president of development and innovation, and Erica Olsen, an NNEDV senior technology safety specialist, explains. "It is critical that survivors have the information that they need to navigate their lives safely and, in today’s digital age, a significant part of our lives are online."
"Telling a victim to go offline to be safe is not only unacceptable, it further isolates her from people who love her," the post emphasizes. "Survivors shouldn’t have to live their lives avoiding every possible situation that the abusive person could misuse."
The guide very clearly fits with that theme. It reviews all the Facebook features which allow users control over the content and information they share, who may be able to see which details, how to protect accounts from being hijacked, and how to report abusive content and communications.
There are a lot of things which are known — and perhaps even very obvious — to many Facebook users, such as reminders that the content you post on other users' Timelines may be visible to a wider audience than you realize or that it's possible to receive a notification whenever your account is accessed from a new device, but the guide is worth a read nonetheless. It clearly lays out concepts with which survivors as well as novice Facebook users may desperately need to familiarize themselves.
Well-written as it may be, this guide doesn't offer much in the way of options for survivors who need the ability to use a pseudonym online. Southworth tells NBC News that using an alternate name or legally changing one's name is not necessarily the best option for most situations. "The work we’ve done over the past few decades has drastically reduced the number of victims who need to apply to change their names and social security numbers — we’ve been documenting this decrease on the ground and it has been confirmed by the Social Security Administration."
"Friends who have less motivation to lock down everything may post an announcement of an event that, in effect, announces the location of a victim. And when victims' comments on friends' posts are made visible, this too can be used to glean information," Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, whose research focuses on young people and social media, countered in an email to NBC News. "What victims need — more than anything — is not to be able to be found, online or offline."
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