Online Abuse Self-Defense Training

ElectionSOS hosted Viktorya Vilk, Program Director for Digital Safety and Free Expression at PEN America, for a training on online abuse self-defense. In this workshop, Viktorya breaks down what online abuse actually is, different ways you can prepare for it and respond to it if it happens, ways to support peers experiencing online abuse, and self-care ideas to remain resilient in the face of such harm.

Key Takeaways:

  • Online harassment is not only scary and annoying—it is being used in targeted ways to censor journalists and others seeking to hold people in power accountable.
  • Online abuse can be pervasive and/or severe. If it causes real harm, it is abuse!
    • Common tactics include hateful speech, doxxing, threats (especially threats of sexual violence), dogpiling, impersonation, message bombing, Zoom bombing, and the use nonconsensual intimate imagery.
  • About 44% of Americans have experienced online harassment, with an even greater number having witnessed someone close to them being harassed.
    • The statistics for religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, as well as women and members of the LGBTQ community, are even higher.
  • Online harassment constitutes the single largest threat to American journalists, per a study from CPJ, and has real consequences such as self-censoring behavior.

Digital Security Tips to Mitigate Risk of Online Abuse:

  • Practice password hygiene. Use longer (16+ characters), unique passwords for each site. Using 1password (free for journalists!) or another password manager can help you keep track of all of your passwords in a secure, encrypted way
  • Do not answer security questions earnestly with answers that are easily Googled. Either invent answers or choose a more obscure question.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on all your accounts, but avoid the text/SMS authentication option. Use an authenticator app, like Authy or Google Authenticator.
  • Set up a PIN on your mobile account to prevent SIM jacking. You can do this with your cell phone provider.
  • Keep software and apps up to date to ensure you do not have any security bugs lingering on your devices.
  • Avoid granting 3rd-party access (using Facebook or Google to make new accounts on other websites). Similarly, be very deliberate about giving 3rd-party apps access to your location, contacts, photos, and so on.
  • Use a virtual phone number, such as Google Voice (it’s free!) , for your work to keep the number separate from your personal one. That way,  if your professional phone number is doxxed or rendered unusable,  you can easily change it.
  • Use encrypted messaging apps, like Signal, to talk with sources. Similarly, use a VPN when browsing online.

Next Steps: