Facebook Creates Guide for Domestic Violence Survivors

Navigating social media can be both difficult and daunting: for the average Internet user, controlling your privacy settings is often simply baffling (I stopped understanding how they function about three "new Facebooks" ago and I basically sleep with my laptop clutched to my breast). For any survivor of domestic violence — whose abusive former partner may attempt to use information shared on their profile in order to intimidate, stalk, threaten, or harass them — concerns about controlling privacy are hugely pressing.

Accordingly, and thankfully, Facebook has just teamed with the National Network to End Domestic Violence in order to launch a privacy guide meant to help survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking better maintain safety and control over their information. It's a good start, and it's hugely relieving to see the website becoming more proactive about dealing with harassment and intimidation — but is it enough?

Cindy Southworth, the Vice President of Development & Innovation and Erica Olsen of the NNEDV recently posted a note on Facebook in which they stated that "getting offline" isn't a tenable or acceptable solution for survivors of abuse, especially not now that so much of our lives take place on social media:

Survivors shouldn’t have to live their lives avoiding every possible situation that the abusive person could misuse. They can’t control that person’s behavior and we should work to continuously hold abusers accountable for their actions. Abusers go to devastating lengths to isolate their victims from family and friends. It is vital that survivors are able to safely rebuild those important connections, using Facebook and other social networks. Telling a victim to go offline to be safe is not only unacceptable, it further isolates her from people who love her.

Thus, the guide details how to maintain one's friend list, how to control who sees what shared content, and how to report abuse. It has use value as a road map for navigating the current security systems in place, but some argue that the security systems themselves must be changed. One Facebook commenter argues:

[V]ictims of abuse should have the right to SEE the activity of people they have blocked… as it is now, when I block someone, I can no longer tell when they have become friends with a friend of mine. Yes, I think victims should be able to choose to ignore posts and visual indicators that are triggering if they CHOOSE to, but making abusers invisible when they are blocked is extremely problematic.

Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, also agrees that the guide alone is not enough. In an interview with NBC News, she said, "Friends who have less motivation to lock down everything may post an announcement of an event that, in effect, announces the location of a victim. And when victims' comments on friends' posts are made visible, this too can be used to glean information." So, yeah, it's heartening to see that Facebook is seriously — and publicly — concerned about protecting survivors, but there's a lot more that needs to be considered before the website actually feels somewhat secure.

"Facebook launches privacy guide for survivors of domestic violence" [Salon]