A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Safe on Facebook

Just go offline is a ridiculous thing to tell a survivor of domestic violence. Isolation is a tactic of abusers, and suggesting that a victim or survivor continue that, or further that, is condoning a strategy abusers use to maintain their control over their target. It’s been my experience that going online is empowering and supportive, and an important part of the recovery and reconnection process.

But it’s dangerous. Abusers are fucking assholes. Mine found me while I was still completely anonymous, using a pseudonym not even remotely connected with my identity or location, which prompted me to change my author identity from Tending Weeds to Melanie. I am Melanie. And fuck him for making me think I needed to be anyone else.

Abusers will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and coerce in order to get what they want, and there is nothing, nothing, that will stop them from doing absolutely everything they can to reach out and destroy their victim, most especially once their victim is transitioning to survivor. It is up to us to protect ourselves. We have to take charge. But how can we stay safe in a world so damn connected?

Facebook recently announced the National Network To End Domestic Violence’s (NNEDV) new Safety and Privacy on Facebook: A Guide For Survivors of Abuse (click for the guide in PDF form). It’s a concise guide to the safety and privacy settings available to all users on Facebook together in one nine page booklet, rather than multiple, disjointed pages on Facebook, with attention to the needs of and respect to the benefits for victims and survivors of abuse. These are not new. These safety measures have been available at varying degrees since Facebook moved off-campus into a neighborhood near you.

The guide is divided into four parts: managing friends, setting privacy controls, security settings and notifications, and additional features. What follows here is a general overview of the guide. It’s not comprehensive. Read the guide, and go through each and every option available to you in your Facebook Account and Privacy Settings.

The First Line of Defense: Manage Your Friends
Know who your friends are, and who your friends’ friends are. Use the grouping option to categorize everyone as close friends, work friends, family, potential danger (friends who are connected in some way to your abuser), and others to suit your needs. These groups will help you select your audience when publishing a status update. You can customize the audience to eliminate groups. If I want to bitch about work, I can hide that rant from work friends. Be aware of who is sending you a friend request. If it’s someone you thought you were already friends with, ask them if it’s them sending a new request. It’s possible for abusers to impersonate someone to get to you. Be safe. Be ultra-cautious. True friends won’t mind your extra step for safety.

Take Back Control: Review Your Privacy Settings
Be aware of what is always publicly available: name, profile and cover photo, and gender, and other basic demographics. Your name may have to be real, but your picture can be of a brick. Hide your profile from search engines, and set who can send you friend requests to “Friends of Friends”, which, unfortunately is the tightest setting allowed. Be cautious about liking or commenting on public posts – this will expose you to The Public regardless of your privacy settings. Ask your friends not to tag you in posts and pictures, and set the controls to allow you to approve all tags before they appear. Periodically check your privacy settings to ensure they are tight.

The Second Line of Defense: Security Settings & Notifications
Your abuser knows you, and can use his knowledge to try to access your account. Lie like a sonofabitch for the answers to the security questions. Was your first dog named Fido? Tell Facebook his name was George, but don’t forget you did. Born in New York? Tell Facebook you were born in Rio. The answer to the security question is an answer only you should know, and because of the generalness of the questions, it’s safer to make up an answer only you will know rather than risking the answer your abuser will also know. Set login notifications and approvals so if someone else tries to access your account from an unapproved, unrecognized device, you’ll know.

The Third Line of Defense: Be Safe
Beyond the Account Settings and Privacy Settings, there are tools to help you stay safe. You can block (and unblock) and unfriend anyone at any time. Anyone. Anytime. You can even block based on an email address. I have Donkey and every member of his family, and even a few of his friends, blocked simply by email. Were they to ever create a Facebook profile, they cannot get to me if they are using the email address for their account that I have in the blocked list. You can also report people, posts, pages, and pictures (though #FBrape taught us it doesn’t always result in action on Facebook’s part).

I realize I keep saying you, and not us. I have these settings in place. I’ve made mistakes, and have learned from them.

I am diligent about who I let in to my personal page – I have a total of 48 Facebook Friends. Some of you have sent friend requests which have gone unanswered and unapproved, or approved and subsequently unapproved. It’s a safety measure, not a rejection. My settings are as tight and strict as they can be, and I spent today double-checking everything again. Everyone is grouped. Not all posts go out to all people all the time. There are three devices approved to access my account. My security questions have some of the most off-the-wall, jacked-up answers. Not everyone can see my phone number and email, and I don’t use the same email for Facebook that I use for WordPress. People are blocked, some of whom didn’t have a Facebook profile when I blocked them. I get notified each and every time anything in any way remotely or directly connected to my name happens.

It is up to me to keep me safe, and although at times the impression is of a selfish bitch, I cannot by any means risk anything. When I saw the tweet from NNEDV about this guide (yes, that was just yesterday that I saw it), I immediately opened the note, followed by the guide, and commenced reading.

I applaud NNEDV for taking the time and effort to create this guide. It’s important and informative. I’m disappointed in Facebook, still and again. Facebook is not the driving force here, and I believe they should be more active than simply publishing a note authored by an outside organization. It’s a conundrum. I’m on Facebook, personally and as a Page. I don’t have any plans to vacate my space there either, even with my personal disgust at their mishandling of demeaning images of women (from abuse to eating disorders, FB is an active playground of misogynistic horror, with placating and minimal response to it).

If you need help getting out of a violent relationship, call 1-800-799-7233.
If you are being attacked, call 911.
If you suspect a friend or loved-one needs help, call 1-800-799-7233.
If your neighbor is punching his wife, or throwing objects at her, or calling her a piece of shit whorebag, call 911. Domestic Violence isn’t THEIR problem, it’s OUR problem. If you think you’re scared, think about how scared she is.

NDVH

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18 comments

  1. NotAPunkRocker · · Reply

    Thank you for the reminders! I lost so many friends, twice, because of the isolation techniques my exes used. The last thing I need is to lose contact with the friends I have now because of FB no longer being a safe place.

    1. I lost friends too. The ones I was closest with, the good ones, are friends again.
      I think as far as personal safety, FB is probably the safest its ever been. There are lots and lots of controls to put in place, but even with personal controls, without understanding how other’s controls are set, it can open us up to others and even the public. There are even ways to see how our profile looks to others so we can be sure our settings are appropriate.
      I do wish they would put something in place to let us see who is looking at our profile, kind of like LinkedIn does.

  2. The tragic irony of all of this is that your pingback to my post came up in my ‘spam’ folder and I almost deleted it until I checked the blog name……..and yet so much genuine spam and rubbish makes it through as legit on Facebook! I really enjoyed your post yesterday about that hotel brochure photo……even with my ‘Arts’ hat on I find that is still contextually incomprehensible to make sense of it in advertisement form, it just left me feeling very uncomfortable – as much of the marketing and lack of privacy on Facebook also does. I would absolutely recommend that people turn off geo-tagging on Instagram, especially if you share your photos on Facebook, you’re basically handing over all the information a stalker needs to track your every movement.

    1. Yesterday’s reblog was courtesy of Make Me A Sammich. I just had to share it. As a work of art, it’s reprehensible, but to be considered acceptable as an advertisement for a hotel, well, I just don’t get it.
      I am not on Instagram, so I do not know anything about the settings there, but your suggestion is important. I don’t tag my location often on FB, though I do sometimes, although my ex does know where I live because of the children and the stupid courts. I don’t tag my location on WordPress, and I have Atlanta listed in Twitter, but nothing specific as to where in Atlanta. Safety is my priority, though I still have a long way to go in learning the ins and outs of it all. You never really know who is looking, and what they want that information for.

  3. Reblogged this on It's a feeling and commented:
    The Donkey has Spoken

    1. Thank your for the reblog. This is an important one for people to read and understand. Safety online is as important as safety in the outside world.

  4. wee bee used facebook, since having all of psychopath ex-husband’s friends and family as friends of hers also, to “out” psychopath as a psychopath and air all of his dirty laundry. this is a wonderful post about being safe online and it really is important not to disappear and go unheard, and become more isolated in turn. although going off the blogging grid for a while seemed like a safe and logical option, it turned out to only worsen everything. so, cheers to forcing the abusers out of our closets!

    1. weebee used facebook well.
      there were a few of us who wondered and worried about you when you went off the grid, though we all understood why. i’m glad you’re back. the abusers are the ones who should hide, not us.

      1. 🙂 the psychopaths can suck it.

        1. they can suck it til they choke.

  5. I think I have been a little brazen with things I have done since I left my abuser in December, and I have done them deliberately. If it weren’t for my job, I would have been a literal prisoner in that apartment with him 24 hours a day like I was for a year and a half before my unemployment was almost out. I only got the job I have now because he didn’t want the free ride to end.

    During that year and a half, I lost all my friends, and my family refused to have much contact with me, so I was left at his mercy… or lack, thereof. He used all my money for drugs. When I left, I was forced to leave everything behind.

    Part of me must be crazy, because I know that being so public about it is not smart. Not at all. But he took everything else from me. I was not about to let him take anymore. So here I am. I am not the one who did anything wrong. I am NOT going to curl up into a hole and disappear simply because he is a monster. He does not deserve that.

    1. There is a bit of the “fuck the world” attitude that manifests itself once we escape the abuse. It’s worse than the sheltered teen off to college and away from home for the first time. It’s the “I can do what ever I want and you can’t stop me” feeling. It wanes and responsibility takes its place, in time. I think it perfectly healthy and absolutely necessary in the recovery process.
      Keep with your writing. Keep telling your story. Shout it from the rooftops as loud as you can through a megaphone. You are most certainly right: you did nothing worng. Not then and not now. Be smart, keep yourself safe, and tell everyone who will listen that this stuff happens, it’s real, and it cannot be ignored any longer.

    1. Thank you for reblogging this. I do think this one is an important one, and I’m grateful you’ve shared it with your readers.

  6. This is an important post for any survivors of abuse. I’m sorry you have been through the things you have and I hope you remain safe.

    1. The only thing I can do now is keep my personal profile private and limited so he can’t harass me anymore than he already does. These are good things to keep in mind, and things I could have done better with right after I left him.

  7. […] A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Safe on Facebook […]

  8. Annie Chace · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Parrots, Prose, and Poetry and commented:
    Important!

speak loudly, donkeys are sleeping

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