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.