One of the most common ways to be attacked online is through messages sent via email or social media.
Harassers might tweet at you with messages of hate, direct message you on social media platforms, or even send threats straight to your email address if they have access to it.
Writers and journalists often need to make their contact information available online in order to be searchable to potential agents, sources, and industry professionals. Removing your contact information from online platforms just might not be an option. But there are a number steps you can take to reduce the possibility of outsiders disrupting your online social life entirely.
- If possible, establish separate accounts meant for separate purposes. If you have a specific email address or messaging app you use for professional purposes, select different addresses and usernames for communicating with friends and loved ones. While this can be a lot of information to juggle, maintaining distinct accounts addresses can really help. If a professional account is targeted by online harassers, resist the urge to shut it down – it will absorb the attacks, while you turn to your private accounts to stay connected to friends and family.
- Consider choosing an email address or social media handle that does does not reveal any identifying information about your name, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or interests. This is information that an attacker may use to track you down in other settings and/or use against you in online attacks. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also suggests avoiding reference to your location or place of employment in their Responding to Cyberhate Toolkit.
- Pay close attention to privacy settings. Monitor your account’s privacy settings and select the highest privacy settings with which you’re comfortable. Ask yourself how much you want strangers to know about you. Do you want them to be able to see what you post on Facebook, for example, if they happen to Google you? If not, it’s best to make your profile private so that only the people you’ve consented to “friendship” with on Facebook can see what you’re up to. Take Back the Tech offers this helpful resource for locating and understanding privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Beware spam and phishing. Be careful when opening unexpected or unsolicited emails, and don’t open any unsolicited attachments or links without first verifying the sender.
- Ask your workplace, university, or volunteer affiliations not to publish your contact info in their online directories. See this Field Manual’s Guidelines for Talking to Employers and Professional Contacts if you’d like tips for discussing online harassment in a professional capacity.