Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

How Facebook is Helping Victims of Domestic Violence

Protecting your privacy on the Internet has always been difficult to do and with the increasing use of social media, it has become even harder. Since social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were established, they have struggled in the area of protecting their users’ privacy.  

Recently, activists accused Twitter of making it too tough to report rape threats. After receiving this criticism, the site has been trying to update its system for flagging abusive and threatening tweets. Similarly, Facebook has received criticism and pressure to modify its policy regarding content affiliated with sexual assault and violence against women. Again, activists claimed that the social media site was allowing its users to post images of battered women in contexts that made violence against women seem acceptable. Yet, when several advertising firms stopped supporting the site, Facebook realized that such photos really were an issue and that other forms of violence on the site needed to be addressed. Facebook is now concentrating on eliminating violence on its site and is taking initiative to help protect the privacy of its users, especially former victims of domestic violence.

Just recently in August 2013, Facebook joined forces with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, also known as NNEDV. Founded in 1990 by a group of domestic violence activists, the NNEDV was formed to promote federal legislation related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Years after the NNEDV was established, it transformed into an alliance of domestic violence shelter programs and statewide groups and coalitions against domestic and sexual violence nationwide. Its mission currently is and has always been to heighten the nation’s awareness of how serious an issue domestic violence is and to change the way communities  respond to it. As part of its mission, one of the most important things the NNEDV strives to do is to foster the empowerment of domestic violence survivors by helping them to live independently and free from abuse.

After researching the NNEDV’s mission and how large an emphasis it places on domestic violence survivors, Facebook recognized that it needed to be part of the organization’s task to empower domestic violence survivors by helping to protect their privacy online. According to the NNEDV, “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. 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; however, this is not a solution.”

Facebook agrees that the solution is not to discourage domestic violence survivors from using the Internet, particularly the company’s website. Rather, the social media company believes that these survivors should be educated on how to best manage their Facebook profiles. Facebook’s goal is to help survivors learn how to avoid ever coming into contact with someone who has abused them in the past and also how to easily report someone who is using the site to threaten or stalk. Not only has the social media company helped survivors to navigate these privacy and safety features, but it also has launched an informative, more detailed guide on the topic.

The new guide explains to Facebook users how to manage the content they share on their walls. It allows users to filter through content and also control who is able to see the content they are posting. Additionally, the guide explains to users how to block people from finding their profile and how to flag abusive content for the site’s administrators. Most importantly, however, the guide details information for Facebook users on how to create a less discoverable name, making it more difficult for former abusers to locate survivors. The site allows you to change your name to a nick- name or even a farfetched name so that survivors’ identities are more protected.

Although Facebook has mastered how its users, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, can protect themselves on the site, it still needs to work on managing what other people can post. It is very difficult to manage each and every post by a friend involving a domestic violence survivor. However, every time this occurs, the survivor is exposed to more risk that a former abuser will find him or her. Therefore, it is imperative in the future that Facebook focus on helping protect the privacy of its users, especially violence survivors, from every possible angle.     

At the Law Offices of Edward R. Weinstein, we are well aware of the power of social media web sites and the major role they now play in virtually all of our NJ Family Law cases.