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Facebook Takes Steps To Help Domestic Violence Survivors Protect Their Privacy

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"Facebook Takes Steps To Help Domestic Violence Survivors Protect Their Privacy"

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CREDIT: Facebook

Facebook has teamed up with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) to help survivors of domestic violence better navigate the social media site’s privacy and safety features. The company has released a guide to these account settings intended to teach Facebook users how to manage their online profiles without encountering someone who has abused them in the past, as well as how to easily report someone who is using the site to threaten or stalk them.

“Privacy and safety go hand in hand for survivors. The most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when they are preparing to leave or have left an abusive partner,” a post from NNEDV explains. “It is critical that survivors have the information that they need to navigate their lives safely… We sometimes hear that survivors should just ‘get offline’ if they are concerned about an abuser finding them or contacting them. This is not a solution.”

The guide tells Facebook users how to control who can and can’t see the content they post, how to block other people from finding them on the site, and how to flag abusive content for site administrators. It also reminds users about the legal options they have if someone is harassing them, and notes that Facebook will work with law enforcement to provide any details needed for a restraining order.

But Facebook does not currently offer any information about how to use a pseudonym online to make it more difficult for survivors to be found. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research who focuses on young people and social media, told NBC News that might be a problem for victims of abuse who can’t control what their friends may be posting about them.

“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,” Boyd pointed out. “What victims need — more than anything — is not to be able to be found, online or offline.”

Still, partnering with a domestic violence prevention organization is a positive step for the social media giant, which has recently been embroiled in some controversy over the issue. In May, Facebook was pressured to change its policy regarding content related to sexual assault and violence against women. Activists contended that Facebook users were allowed to post triggering images — such as photos of battered and bleeding women — in contexts that made light of violence against women’s bodies, and Facebook administrators didn’t consider them to break any content guidelines. After over a dozen companies dropped their advertising with the site in protest, Facebook promised to work with women’s groups to update its policies to better police gender-based hate speech.

Other social media sites have struggled in this area as well. Earlier this week, Twitter agreed to work to update its system for flagging abusive and threatening tweets after activists accused the site of making it too hard to report rape threats.

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