Example: Countless women and high-profile celebrities have been the targets of nonconsensual pornography. Leading revenge-porn expert Carrie Goldberg, a Cyber Civil Rights Initiative board member and lawyer who has dedicated her career to taking on cases around sexual privacy and internet abuse, was herself a former victim of nonconsensual intimate images by an ex-boyfriend.
What to do: Undergoing an attack of nonconsensual pornography can be extremely traumatic and may require legal intervention. (There are currently 46 states with nonconsensual pornography laws on the books—check to see if yours is one of them.) If an explicit image has been posted to a social media platform or chat forum, flag it for removal and, if possible, contact the platform’s administrators. Be sure to lean on your support community for help during this time as well.
Definition: Creation of a hoax social media account, often using the target’s name and/or photo, to post offensive or inflammatory statements to defame, discredit, or instigate further abuse. A harasser can also impersonate someone the target knows in order to cause harm.
Example: Writer Lindy West was subject to a particularly cruel episode of impersonation trolling when an online troll posed as her deceased father. Her story has an unusual ending, however: the abusive troll ended up apologizing.
What to do: Immediately report the impersonation to the platform on which it appears. You may want to consider making a statement on your real social media accounts alerting your online communities to the imposter. (If the harassment is taking place on Twitter, you can “pin” the tweet to the top of your profile for a period of time, so it’s visible whenever someone visits your real Twitter profile.) In some cases, it may be appropriate to inform your employer or your loved ones of the abuse, especially in cases in which they’re implicated in the impersonator’s comments.
Online Sexual Harassment (aka, Cybersexual Abuse, Gender-Based Harassment)
Revealing a target’s former name against their wishes to do them harm, a technique “most commonly used to out members of the LGTBQIA community who may have changed their birth names for any variety of reasons, including to avoid professional discrimination and physical danger” [Source: WMC].
“Anything meant to infantilize a [woman], from calling her “hon” or “sweetie” to telling her she’ll get it when she gets older. Named after the candy that doctors and merchants handed out to young children, to placate them” [Source: FlavorWire]
Non-Consensual Intimate Images (see below)
Sending sexually explicit or violent images and videos to a target [adapted from WMC].
Sending “unwelcome sexual requests, comments and content” to a target [Source: Project deSHAME].
Example: When author, attorney, and feminist blogger Jill Filipovic was a student at NYU School of Law, she discovered hundreds of threads on an anonymous message board that were filled with rape threats — many of them graphic — directed at her. T The online threats transitioned into offline contexts when harassers began appearing at Filipovic’s law school and later on at her law firm. Filipovic writes that her confidence and safety were compromised as a result of the online sexual harassment she faced.
What to do: An important place to start is reporting the harassment to the platform on which it was received and documenting the abuse. Online sexual harassment can be extremely traumatic for a target, and may require legal intervention. (There are currently 46 states with nonconsensual pornography laws on the books—check to see if yours is one of them.) If you do wish to seek help from law enforcement or a lawyer, please visit the Legal Considerations section of this Field Manual.
If you are a target of online sexual harassment, it is extremely important to keep in mind that you are not alone. Reaching out to others for support can go a long way in taking care of your mental health. Take a look at the Guidelines for Talking to Friends and Loved Ones section of this Field Manual for more tips on how to discuss sensitive topics, including online sexual harassment, with those around you.
Definition: An online scam that starts with some form of communication—an email, a text, a Whatsapp message—designed to look like it comes from a trusted source. The aim is to trick you into doing something—usually clicking on a link or opening an attachment, which may automatically download a virus onto your device or lead you to enter private information, like login details, which could then be used to gain control over your online accounts, impersonate you, or sell your info to others. [Source: Totem Project]
Example: In 2019, science journalist and academic Erfan Kasraie received an email from someone fraudulently claiming to be a Wall Street Journal reporter reaching out for an interview, who turned out to be a hacker affiliated with the Iran-linked group Charming Kitten, trying to break into Kasraie’s email account.
What to do: Be careful when opening unexpected or unsolicited emails. Don’t open any unsolicited attachments or links without first verifying the sender. If you get an email with an attachment or link from a friend that you weren’t expecting, send them a quick note and make sure it’s legit.
Definition: “A statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action” against a target [Source: Lexico]. This includes death threats, threats of physical violence, and, for women, often threats of sexual violence.
Example: Writer Jessica Valenti has been the target of rampant misogyny, toxic (and irrelevant) character attacks, and rape and death threats throughout her 14-year career as an online writer. In 2016, she temporarily quit social media after online rape and death threats were directed at her 5-year-old daughter.
What to do: Because of the anonymity afforded by the internet, it can be difficult to know how to navigate a threat. The guidance on assessing the threat in this Field Manual can help, but ultimately: take all threats seriously, ask yourself if you’ve been made to feel unsafe, and trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe, consider finding a place of safety, reporting to law enforcement, and informing allies and potentially an employer. It’s also critical to document threats, which you’ll need to engage law enforcement and pursue legal protection.
Definition: Placing a hoax call to law enforcement detailing a completely false threatening event taking place at a target’s home or business, with the intention of sending a fully armed police unit (SWAT team) to the target’s address. Swatting is rare, but extremely dangerous, and a clear example of how online harassment has the potential to cause harm in offline life.
Example: In 2013, an online security journalist was swatted at his home in Virginia, where 10 to 12 police officers surrounded his driveway with their guns drawn.
What to do: Swatting is illegal. It is often the result of a doxing incident, in which a person’s home or business address has been posted online. You can take measures to proactively protect your information from doxing. If you believe you could be the target of swatting in future, consider informing your local law enforcement to prepare them for this possibility. If you’ve been the target of swatting, you may want to pursue legal action.
Definition: “The act of hijacking a virtual meeting and disrupting communication through the sharing of text, video, or audio… commonly referred to as “raiding” or “bombing”… Sometimes these raids are… [for] targeted reasons, including disruption of business activities and identity-based attacks on marginalized groups.” [Source: “Space Invaders,” Shorenstein Center]
Example: Journalists Kara Swisher and Jessica Lessin were forced to shut down a Zoom event focused on the challenges faced by women in tech when abusive trolls bombed the session with pornography.
What to do: The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide to tightening your Zoom settings and the Global Forum for Media Development’s tips for what to do if you’re Zoombombed offer excellent guidance. Be sure to regularly update Zoom and any other videoconferencing software because they are constantly releasing new security features. If you are targeted with hate or threats, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.