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Safety in the Digital Age

In 2015, many of us consider social media to be a standard part of daily life; we have multiple accounts on different platforms keeping us up to date not just on the lives of family and friends, but on breaking news and other information. The majority (74%) of adult internet users are on some form of social media, with Facebook being the most popular choice (71% of adults are on Facebook). Without a doubt, Facebook helps us connect with others — but this connection comes at a price. Facebook requires members to use their “authentic names,” which opens up abuse survivors to the possibility of stalking or harassment by their abusers.

A recent article highlights the dangers inherent in Facebook’s “real name” policy. It tells the story of a woman named Lily whose profile was flagged by Facebook for using a pseudonym, and had to use her legal name in order to keep using the site. After seven years of using Facebook with no contact from an abusive ex, Lily’s ex — a man who raped and beat her savagely — contacted her within two weeks of the change to her real name. Other survivors told of how Facebook’s complicated privacy settings, which may allow other users to “tag” you at a certain location, made them fear for their safety as these digital trails could lead their abusers right to them. While Facebook has posted a guide to their privacy settings for survivors, in partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this is simply not enough to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Of course, there is always the option for survivors to simply not be on social media, and that is the choice made by many. But the reality is that social media is an important part of life in 2015, and there are valid, important reasons for people to be on social media. This may include a need to monitor or check in on kids’ social media, job-related functions that require Facebook access, or connecting with others in their community. Because Facebook has become so ubiquitous, it isn’t necessarily fair to expect abuse survivors to abstain from it entirely in order to maintain their safety. There are valid reasons for Facebook to require real names — but the safety of victims of domestic and sexual violence should trump those reasons.

Online stalking and harassment is far too common; 26% of women report that they have been stalked online, and 65% of young adults have been harassed online. While for some, the answer may be that staying off social media is the best way to stay safe, those that choose to use Facebook should not be forced to use their legal names. If you agree that survivors of domestic and sexual violence should be allowed to use a pseudonym to protect their safety, you can sign the petition asking Facebook to change their “authentic name” policy. If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, please review this guide to Facebook’s privacy settings to help ensure that the details of your life stay private. Finally, everyone who is active online can review these basic tips to help them stay safe on the Internet.

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