My partner is harassing me through social media.
Social media is full of harassment: it's never been easier to see hateful messages, exhaustive arguments, and even threats of violence. Controlling partners are quick to exploit this vulnerability, either directly harassing their partners on popular online platforms, or enlisting hate communities to assist in abuse campaigns. In a better world, tech companies would take stronger measures to protect their users from online harassment, committing to safer, more caring platforms. Until then, DIY Cybersecurity is a tool of harm-reduction.
There is no one right way to fight harassment. Based on a personal assessment of your safety, you can decide which protective measures are best for you. Some people may want to make their online platforms "private", while others will want to escalate the issue to the attention of social media companies. Focusing on support from friends and family is always an option. If your abuser's harassment feels like a crisis that needs direct assistance, and you do not want to contact an emergency resource, you can contact the Crash Override Network, a "crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource center for people who are experiencing online abuse". We will outline common harassment scenarios along with strategies to resist the harassment.
I'm Receiving Abusive Messages on Social Media.
Most social media platforms give you the option to make your account private or public. Choosing to be private or public makes you no more deserving of harassment. There are often other security options, such as reporting the abuser through the platform itself. HeartMob, a project to fight online harassment, offers in-depth guides for how to respond to harassment on various social media platforms.
Abusive messages that threaten violence are criminal. If you think these threats are an imminent danger, you should contact a Domestic Violence crisis hotline, loved ones who can provide safe shelter, or, if you feel safe doing so, local law enforcement. Collecting evidence of the threats could be important for demonstrating danger to child protective services, court systems, law enforcement, and other state agencies who may be involved in the separation from your partner. Because an abuser may delete proof of their harassment, you can take screenshots for your personal records, or report the messages to the tech platform so they have a record. Our Back-Up Your Data defense strategy explores several approaches for preserving evidence.
My Social Network is Being Used Against Me.
Even when your social media account is secure, you're still open and available to your social network. Many controlling partners exploit this vulnerability to stalk, punish, or intimidate. Your partner's friends or family may contact you about your relationship, making you feel like you're being ganged-up on. Your partner might monitor your friend's status updates or photos to gain information about your personal life. They may even post cruel messages or photos about you, to embarrass you in front of your community. In all of these scenarios, you are unfairly harassed with the help of your social network and social media platform. It's incredibly hurtful.
You can resist social network exploitation through mindfulness and self-care. Check your friend or follower list of people who you don't know, or aren't very close with—if you ran into them on the street, would you want to talk to them? If not, delete them. When your friends post something about you, in photos or otherwise, politely ask them to withhold that information out of respect for your privacy. It's especially important to discourage "tagging" in photos or posts, which frequently reveal your physical location at a specific time. Don't hesitate to block or unfriend people who are contacting you in a way that causes stress, discomfort, or harm: you are not obliged to talk to anyone who makes you feel that way. Comment sections are especially cruel, where many people are thoughtless and angry—it's okay to ignore them. If your partner is publicly attacking you, report them to the social media platform for harassment. You can also take a social media hiatus to reduce stress. While none of these solutions can definitively stop harassment, they all give you more control over your social media experience.
My Partner is Impersonating Me Online.
Pretending to be someone online is an attempt to damage their reputation, causing isolation from friends, coworkers, or family. Your partner may impersonate you by sharing sexual photos, sending embarrassing messages to your social network, or using your online accounts. This data can be true or false: your partner is more interested in damage than truth. In other cases, they may register for online accounts using your personal information—a form of identity theft. If your partner is using your online accounts to impersonate you, read our My Partner has Unwanted Access to my Online Accounts threat scenario, which details many strategies for securing your accounts and stopping malicious activity.
Impersonation is frequently accomplished through fake social media accounts, such as a Facebook profile or a Twitter account. It may be tempting to make a social media post "denouncing" the fake profile, but be warned: harassers thrive on attention and may be encouraged to harass you more. Because fake accounts are often brand new accounts, they are less likely to be picked up by search engines, while other social media users are less willing to interact with them. If your platform has the option, report the account as an impersonation and/or as harassment. Having friends report the account may increase the likelihood of response.
My Personal Information is Being Shared Online.
Public posting of personal information, also known as "Doxxing", is a very common abuse tactic: phone numbers, addresses, names of family members, embarrassing private information, intimate photographs or texts, and other pieces of personal data can be shared on social media, email, and websites. The sense of vulnerability can be debilitating. You fear that your personal life or career will be adversely impacted. You worry for your safety, or the safety of your loved ones.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prevent the spread of personal information online. Social media platforms are reluctant to get involved beyond just responding to reported posts or users. Websites can only be taken down by legal action. If your social media or email platform has the option, report your partner for harassment. Otherwise, make a point not to give visibility to their activity, and collect evidence in case you need to pursue legal action.
Online harassment is a constant threat throughout the internet. Controlling partners can easily take advantage of open social media networks to launch campaigns of abuse, impersonation, and doxxing. While tech platforms should prioritize your well-being online, they are less than willing to seriously combat abuse. To mitigate online harassment to the best of your ability, you can secure your online accounts, report abuse when possible, refuse to give visibility to abusive activity, manage your account's privacy settings, and collect evidence of abuse. Mindfulness of your social network encourages protective strategies like removing risky friends or followers, asking friends to not share your personal information, and removing yourself from cruel messages or comments. You can also connect with anti-harassment organizations like Crash Override Network, or contact DV organization for assistance. Harassment is ultimately a sign of your partner's deep insecurity, frustration, and loneliness: you are not responsible for their abuse.