We live a big chunk of our lives online. A person probably has at least two email accounts, an account on more than one social media platform, and sometimes, more than one cellphone number. We’re constantly updating the world on what we’re doing and feeling. We’ve crafted identities online that may or may not be different from who we are in real life.
The internet is so ubiquitous (even in the Philippines, famous for having the slowest internet speed in the region) that most of us take it for granted. A lot of us forget that the internet can be a dangerous place, rife with, to put it diplomatically, people who don’t play nice, so it’s important to keep vigilant.
We spoke to Sam*, a Digital Security Trainer, to find out how women can stay safe online. “Increasingly, the internet is becoming a space where people get attacked for their opinions, specifically women and LGBT individuals and anyone who doesn't follow the norm. They [are] attacked for not following the norm and for having an opinion, and the attacks become more and more severe as more and more people get on the internet,” Sam says.
Digital harassment comes in many flavors, all of them unpleasant. “There's a range, from telling someone like Agot Isidro when she had an opinion about Duterte needing a psychiatrist, telling her that because she's barren, she shouldn't have an opinion—that kind of horrific attack—to former partners using intimate photos and videos taken at a time of love into holding people to their will. Those things have a range of severity, of course.”
There are different ways to avoid online harassment while still being free to speak your opinions (or make sex tapes, if you’re into that sort of thing). Even if you think that you have nothing to hide, you still have to keep your online information safe to prevent identity theft, which is a thing. Just ask the thousands of “regular people” who’ve gotten their email addresses hacked, social media accounts faked, and credit card info stolen. It’s not pretty, and it can be avoided.
There’s no such thing as being fully protected online; the closest one can get to being fully protected can be a bit time-consuming, but totally worth the peace of mind. However, it can also be as simple as keeping your wits about at all times. Here are three of Sam’s most basic, yet important pieces of advice for staying safe online:
Make sure your intimate moments stay private.
Stories of disgruntled exes leaking sex tapes abound. But this doesn’t mean you should avoid making intimate videos altogether: “For women in intimate relationships, no matter how much you love your partner, make sure that you're the one that holds the content of whatever intimate things you record. That's not to victim blame, but we know it's being done, so we have to be clever about how we do these things.”
Avoid letting people locate you in real time.
It’s become second nature to announce where you are on social media. Who doesn’t want the world to know that they’re currently on a lovely beach vacation, or attending the hottest party of the year? But such disclosures come with risks “It's tempting to locate yourself all the time on the internet and on social media, but in the long [run], it's going to cause more harm if you become a target of harassment (or) of stalking because then those offline spaces become available to people who are stalking you online as well,” Sam says.
Worst case scenarios include stalkers showing up because they saw a person’s location on Instagram or someone’s house getting burgled because the thieves saw on Facebook that the homeowner is on vacation. I know it’s a bit over-the-top, but this safety measure takes little to no effort to implement.
Keep all your accounts separate.
Facebook and Google have made it very easy to sign up for services by allowing users to log onto certain sites with their FB or Google account and apps like Tinder are dependent on one having a Facebook. Sam says that while this is convenient, it isn’t always safe. “The way social media works now is you are rewarded if your identity is unified. So your interests, your work, your hobbies, are all connected to just these one or two email addresses or Facebook accounts, and you are rewarded for that with convenience. It's very tempting but it would be a great idea for most people to have work accounts and personal accounts at the minimum. Sometimes, especially for women who are advocates, or these days, who have an opinion, that unified account gets used against them so much,” they say.
Sam suggests keeping your work and personal emails separate, and not using Google or Facebook to sign up for and log into other accounts.