Staying Safe Online as an Influencer Activist

Photo by Christina Morillo

More than ever, influencers are using their online presence to make positive change and stand up for what they believe in. Unfortunately, the ease with which we can share our beliefs also makes it easier for people to harass and abuse us online – oftentimes, from the very audience that loved us when we only spoke about the topics they deemed appropriate.

What is online activism?

Online activism refers to the use of social media, emails, podcasts, and various other forms to deliver particular information to an online audience. While online activism can specifically refer to larger coordinated movements of which you may or may not be a part of, it can also be using your influence online to talk about the issues and topics you care about.

Possible risks to yourself online

If you are public and online in general – even if it’s about paint colors – you are opening yourself to criticism. It’s even more pronounced if you are a woman of color (particularly Black), LGBTQIA+, or a woman in a male-dominated field. Add activism to the mix and you could become very vulnerable – physically, emotionally, and digitally – to angry readers, hackers, and online vitriol.

Several possible risks could be (and not limited to):

  • Folks might doxx you. Doxxing is when people search for and publish on the internet private or identifying information about you and/or your family, with the purpose of malicious intent.
  • People may threaten your physical safety. Whether you know the people in real life and they know where you live, or if they’re anonymous trolls online threatening you, this is a very real danger – especially to Black women and LGBTQIA+ folks.
  • Your mental and emotional health may take a toll. Weathering abuse from friends and strangers alike can wear a person down – even on the most confident and best of days. Add issues that are literally life and death to Black and LGBTQIA+ folks, and the situation becomes even more fraught and tenuous.
  • Loss of friendships, followers, and brands. Even for those of us who have actively curated our feeds and friendships to only include people of a similar mindset, we cannot account for every person. There will be losses: some minor and some very painful.

Steps you can take to protect yourself

If, after taking into consideration the risks to yourself and your family (both online and off), you still choose to use your online influence for activism, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Turn on multi-factor verification on all accounts

At the very least, turn on 2-factor verification, but whenever possible, turn on 3-factor verification. Usually, this refers to three things: something you know (eg: password), something you have (eg: smart card), and something you are (eg: fingerprint).

This is especially important if you are political on social media and people will try to hack into your accounts.

Turn your location off

Of course, some apps won’t work if you don’t have the location enabled (eg: Google Maps) and you can adjust your settings so these apps only access your location when in use, but most apps don’t need to know your location – ever. Plus, sometimes apps will actually make public your location when you post.

Report and block people

Don’t wait for people to get extreme. Report and block people at the first sign of trouble. Trust your gut.

Delete abusive comments

It’s your site (for which you pay money), it’s your virtual house, your page, your profile, your post. If you don’t want the abusive comments there, you shouldn’t have to see them. Free speech only applies to the government – and even that has limitations.

Also, leaving up abusive comments allows other people to see that that kind of behavior is tolerated and allowed. Don’t give abusive people any room to hurt you and your audience.

Unfollow abusive threads or delete your comment

If someone is being nasty, unfollow the thread or delete your comment entirely.

Remove yourself from abusive or questionable Twitter lists

Periodically, check to see what Twitter lists, if any, you’ve been put on. Many trolls will curate Twitter lists so fellow trolls can do their worst online. Check out the users who have added you on the lists and determine whether you want to be associated with them in this manner. If you block a user, you will automatically be removed from their lists. If necessary, you can also report a list.

Post pics after you leave a place

In this Instagrammable day and age where stores and events want us to tag them when we’re there, it’s a really easy way for strangers to track where we are physically at any given moment. One way to make it less easy (especially if your children are with you), is to post pictures or status updates only after you have already left.

Pay to make sure your address isn’t linked to your blog

Yes, it is worth it to pay that additional $12 a year so that the ICANN registry doesn’t list all you and your website’s identifying information.

According to ICANN’s website, “ICANN is committed to implementing measures to maintain timely, unrestricted and public access to accurate and complete WHOIS information, subject to applicable laws.”

While this is particularly useful as a person doing research into other companies and sites, it’s a bit alarming when YOU are the one being researched.

Use privacy settings on your personal accounts and check them regularly

Whatever social media you use, make sure your privacy settings are at the level you feel most comfortable.

Especially in the influencer world, where the lines between friends and acquaintances can be blurred after a fun conference or two, your friend list may be much longer than you think.

Make use of Facebook lists and restrictions to limit the audience to your posts.

Double check after you post something to see it’s at the level you desire. If you have dedicated personal accounts, consider making them private.

Restrict the personal information you post – even on personal posts

Anyone can screenshot. You never know what your friends or family may inadvertently (or spitefully) share from your personal accounts. Don’t show your kids’ schools, club names, club rosters, etc.

Don’t release your email, cell phone, or even what schools you attended. Hackers can also harvest your public data to create fake accounts with your name and pictures.

Restrict your past posts

For Facebook, you can change all of your past posts to Friends only (or even more restrictive settings). Your Twitter account can be turned private so that only current followers can see your Tweets.

This doesn’t prevent your posts from being screenshot, but it is one way to protect yourself.

Remove family and children names and photographs

If you post about your family, make sure you scrub out their names or use pseudonyms for them on your site and your social media posts.

Consider combing through your old posts to confirm there are no instances of their real names appearing.

Delete comments from friends and family who refer to your children by name. Archive photos of your kids unless they are outdated.

Sign up for Google Alerts with your name

Whether it is for your personal name, your blogging identity, your website, and even your family’s names, you can set up Google Alerts so you can monitor whether anything has been posted about you or your family.

Screenshot comments before deleting them

Always keep receipts. Before you delete comments, screenshot them and keep them in a separate album on your phone or computer for easy retrieval.

Set up firewalls or add security measures to protect your blog

A firewall instills a set of rules for incoming and outgoing traffic to your site in order to protect it. The rules are meant to place a wall between a trusted source (eg: your WordPress server) and an untrusted source (eg: the rest of the internet).

Hide your default WordPress login page

If you’ve been online for any amount of time, you’ve likely received emails from WordPress or a security plugin informing you that they’ve blocked users from failing to log into your site after ten tries. Many hackers will use brute force to try and log into your site and thus hijack it away from you. You can either use a plugin or directly change your .htaccess file.

Do not post photos of your home or neighborhood

Believe it or not (and this has happened to celebrities and “regular” bloggers who had posts go viral), intrepid people can narrow down your neighborhood from seemingly information present in a photo. For example, most lampposts have an identifying number that provides specific location information for ease of maintenance. Trolls can also use Google Maps and Google Earth to spy on your neighborhood or get people in your area to try and drive by your home to find you.

Ultimately, nothing online is without risk, but it’s best to take precautions and limit the harm as much as possible.