I’ve always struggled to navigate the online world, especially being safe whilst being transparent whilst trying to run Making Roots. But I’ve decided to talk about my own journey with online safety, to engage dialogue about generating change with the online world.
Most people who have a social media account have received hate in some form or another. Luckily for most of us it doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's a horrible feeling that is often beyond our control. Online conversations can bring anonymity. Face to face conversations rarely get heated or personal and as humans we're all normally pretty good at reading each other, our body language and understanding what is acceptable. However, it also gets messy as much of our work lives diverge into social media, what is accountability, what is personal harassment and what is abuse?
I have my own snippet of experience at what I believe is online harassment in 2018. I started receiving messages asking me to comment to somebody else. I politely declined and stopped engaging. Then the comments on my posts started appearing. I deleted them and didn't engage. The comments started getting spiteful, so I blocked the account. Then a new, very similar account would appear and I'd get a get a heap more comments, most in very quick succession. I blocked all new accounts, but I started getting anxious leaving my phone and opening my accounts, to see what had been said.
Then it escalated. The account started commenting on close friends and family who don't often use instagram. They were extremely worried/ surprised by this. Then came the comments from a new account on large public accounts- in places that I couldn't delete the comment- yet the world could see. Then came messaging long, spiteful messages about me to my followers, asking them to forward to me. I put a message out to all to ignore.
Things quietened down for a while.
Then one morning I was having a cup of tea with my Mum, when I got a FaceTime video call. I answered, to a man masturbating, close up, to his camera. I was shocked, surprised, and hung up.
We laughed awkwardly, unsure of what to do..?! I felt upset and attacked. I gave it a few hours of feeling shocked, and decided to call the police. I was pretty sure it was the same man as had been messaging me and I felt like the harassment had crossed a new line.
The local police didn't exactly respond how I expected. I wondered if they might block the IP or similar. Instead, they laughed it off. They said it happens all of the time, loads of women get calls from men masturbating on the camera. I had been pretty shocked and upset by the whole thing, now I felt like someone the police were thinking I was a prude, that I should let it all wash off. A man cold calling masturbating didn't seem to matter. I was then recommended to make my entire online life private. Not put my name anywhere at all, to take away my email, to close myself off completely to be safe. The onus was 100% on me to prevent myself getting harassed. The police acknowledged this meant I had to remove my social media where I promote my work, ask for my name to be removed from all professional writing and interviews I've done, remove my name from all my work on my website. I honestly felt robbed. To keep myself safe online, I have to hide.
I have really struggled with this for a long time since. The onus is on victims, to reduce their online exposure, which for many is tied to income and career in the modern world. There is nothing the police can do for online business based overseas, like Facebook. These big organisations are under no legal requirements to provide details of accounts to authorities.
Since, I have taken my name off of my professional instagram account and made my own private to only my friends. I deleted lots of followers from my personal account, that I wasn't sure who they were. I am straddling being online as me, trying to be transparent and building a career and being worried of using my name online. It's daunting, it's scary and it's absolutely unfair. I attended a webinar recently about keeping women safe online. Unfortunately much of the advice was similar, don't use your name etc. Obviously, there is a level of being safe that is obvious, you shouldn't publish addresses online. But I feel deep sadness that I have to remain semi anonymous when blogging- something that will no doubt damage my career when I can't be tied back to my work. It also reduces the transparency of my work. I also feel resentful that I was recommended not to talk about my problems. That it causes more problems to highlight the problem, so I'm silenced about my experiences (and probably lots of others are too). See below for one example of a morning of comments I received one day, I had many of these days. I am hoping enough time has passed that I can now talk about this without it beginning again, but part of me is still concerned that I'll open my phone and find something hurtful or get more harassing phone calls, especially after publishing this.
I would like to see facebook and other online platforms taking much greater responsibility for working with legal authorities to prevent this from happening. For creating penalties for offending in this way. For blocking IP addresses not just accounts (which can be restarted under new emails). To take onus off of victims and onto people who offend. To set guidelines to help transparency and genuine ethical complaints services for social media, so we can clear some of the mud that is the online world.
I really do not know personally how to navigate social media safely and ethically at the moment. Let me know if you have any tips or if you see any petitions to generate change!