As marketers learn more about online risks and customer privacy, the need for online safety guidelines becomes more and more apparent. Highest at risk are marginalized communities that are often targets of cyberbullying and trolling. Here’s how one company decided to help.
vpnMentor, a company that provides practical strategies for coping with adversity, bigotry, and abuse on the web, conducted a survey in which they asked 695 LGBTQ+ people worldwide about their experiences online as they relate to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The results illuminated the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Here are some of their key findings:
- 73% of all respondents in all categories of gender identity and sexual orientation have been personally attacked or harassed online.
- 50% of all respondents in all categories of gender identity and sexual orientation have suffered sexual harassment online.
- When it comes to sexual orientation, asexual people feel the least safe online, and gay men the safest.
- When it comes to gender identity, transgender women feel the least safe online, and cisgender men the safest.
- Transgender women are the most likely to be outed against their will online, while cisgender men are least likely.
Cyberbullying is a Near Universal Experience
According to the study, 73% of LGBTQ+ people have reported being personally attacked or harassed online. These incidents frequently revolve around attempts to alter or criticize a person’s sexual or gender identity.
Shauna, a lesbian respondent recalls, “some lady commented on a post I made on social media that my being gay was a phase and that if I found Jesus, I would be converted just like her.”
“Back before Facebook filtered messages from people you aren’t friends with, I would often receive messages calling me a dyke or similarly abusing me,” adds Dylan, a non-binary respondent.
And the abuse isn’t always just verbal. Sometimes, it can even lead to physical violence. According to Zsófia, a genderqueer/non-binary lesbian living in Hungary, “In 2012, my whole Facebook profile was published (with several other [members of the] Hungarian LGBTQ+ community) on a far-right group’s website. The list was called “fagot-list” (“köcsög lista” in Hungarian).”
In addition to these assaults by bigots and religious and political extremists, the survey found that most of the online harassment respondents experienced was sexual in nature.
Dozens of people report that they have received unsolicited pornographic photos or vulgar, sexually explicit messages.
“I have had death threats against myself and my family,” discloses Nova, an asexual transgender woman. “Bullying from outside and inside the community. [I’ve] been creeped out so much that I have left social media.”
Asexual people described feeling threatened by their non-asexual counterparts who refuse to accept asexuality as a valid orientation. Some of these men, women and non-binary or genderqueer people would accuse asexuals of having a latent or “not yet developed” sexual interest.
“People think they can cure my asexuality by sending me their nudes or just repeatedly telling me everyone has a sex drive you just need to wait for yours,” says Elijah, who’s genderqueer and asexual.
Despite reporting frequently receiving sexually inappropriate content or comments, many respondents downplayed their harassment and even excused this behavior as “just the usual.”
Cyberbullying on Social Media
Today social media is our main form of communication on the internet, and for LGBTQ+ people – especially those who are not supported by their families or friends – social media may be the only place they can find a loving, supportive community.
Unfortunately, social media is also rife with bullying. Studies have even shown that, due to the fact that not having to face their victim in person emboldens many abusers, bullying is much more widespread online than in real life.
Research has also shown that cyberbullying causes depression, and many victims turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, and self-injury.
While there is no way for individuals to stop the harassers from bullying in the first place, there are ways to shield yourself from them, making the repercussions of cyberbullying less severe.
Sometimes it’s as simple as blocking and reporting abusive users, so you don’t have to interact with them at all.
If problems persist, you also have the option of reporting the abuse to the platform – though unfortunately, site administrators don’t always take the necessary action to shut bigots down.
Other Ways to Silence Haters
When blocking someone online is not an option, there are other steps you can take to limit your exposure to them. Any of the following tactics can help you take control online:
- Manually remove comments on your posts.
Most sites allow you delete specific comments, so you can remove the offensive responses quickly.
- Report the incident to the platform.
If you don’t want it to be obvious that it was you who took action, reporting allows you to anonymously flag the issue, so the company can take action.
- Create private lists and groups.
Most social networks have a feature to make messages, posts or groups private. By doing this, you can choose to include people you trust and keep potentially sensitive conversations away from harassers.
Cyberbullying on Online Forums
Online forums are a fantastic way to interact with your community, but they can often be a catalyst for arguments and discussions that can turn nasty. It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people to be unfairly targeted on public boards, just because of how they identify.
LGBTQ folks should never be forced to mask their identity, but unfortunately, the world can be a very ugly place, and some people may choose to keep certain information private in order to keep themselves safe.
The following are all details that you should consider avoiding when talking to people you don’t know.
- Address and Contact Information: Cyberbullying is one thing, but having an aggressor know where you live – or how to contact you – can put you in physical danger. Never share these details with anyone online, unless you know them personally and it’s via an encrypted chat. Even general information, such as your town or city, can be used to locate you, so keeping it to yourself is the safest option.
- Real Names:People can quickly connect the dots to work out who you and your friends are, so some choose to use pseudonyms for themselves and people to whom they refer in their posts. This simple habit is easy to adopt and will afford you considerable privacy, while still allowing you to share your experiences and opinions.
- Links to Social Media: If you’re commenting in forums, consider not linking your social media account, or at least keeping your social media settings private. While being verbally attacked on a thread is one thing, your social media account usually has a lot more personal information about you that could escalate harassment to a different level.
Closeted People Risk Being Blackmailed
Although more and more people are comfortable coming out of the closet, there are still many who unfortunately do not feel safe enough to do so. And there are cyber criminals out there who are ready to take advantage of that and are actively looking for victims to blackmail and extort. Therefore, it is important to know how to keep certain information private if you so choose.
Most online platforms have started to take privacy seriously and offer settings to hide parts of, or all, profile information from some users.
How to Not Get Hacked
Unfortunately, it’s not just physical theft that could expose your private photos and information. Hackers are becoming incredibly sophisticated and can find your intimate information without you even knowing it.
The best way to protect yourself from hackers is to implement several layers of online protection.
- Install antivirus software that will alert you if you accidentally download spyware onto your phone. Spyware intercepts your files, passwords, and online activity, and transfers them back to the hacker.
- Only download apps from trusted users. Some unofficial apps are trojan horses for malware. If an infected program enters your phone, it can easily grant a third party access to your messages and photos.
- Regularly update your apps, since updates usually include patches and fixes for security flaws.
- Use two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your accounts to make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access your files via brute-force attacks. This setting requires an additional code from a third-party platform, like your SMS or email, so (unless someone has managed to hack into several of your accounts) they won’t be able to gain entry.
- Always use a VPN when using unsecured public WiFi networks. Open hotspots do not encrypt data, so other users can see and access your files. Rogue connection points also exist to intentionally farm your data. Using a VPN will encrypt your traffic and bypass this issue altogether. If you’re not sure which to use, here are some of our favorites.
Tips for Parents of LGBTQ+ Youth
If you are the parent of an LGBTQ+ child, it’s essential to verse yourself in online safety.
Queer youth are especially vulnerable to abuse and depression, mostly because they have less of an ability than adults to organize their lives around finding a supportive community.
It is important to stay involved in your child’s life and be aware of their mental health. By maintaining an open dialogue and monitoring their online activity, you can help keep them safe.
Similarly, if you discover that your child is queer but has not disclosed that information to you, it is important that you do not confront them about it. Instead, have an open dialogue and incorporate statements about the LGBTQ community that will help your child feel safe.
Talk to them, but more importantly LISTEN. Ask what help they need and what tactics they’re using to protect themselves online. Many resources exist to support LGBTQ youth and their parents, so feel free to reach out and connect with others.
Learn more about online safety challenges for LGBTQ+ community here >>
Madison Bloom is the nom de plume of a branding executive based in San Francisco.