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Protect Yourself Online

It’s Safer Internet Day today and a perfect time to talk about how you can protect yourself online.

This is specifically for those of you who share your personal stories in online spaces. This is especially those who have dealt with a narcissist.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

I was stalked online for months until I found out and blocked them.

In my experience, there are a number of people who might trawl across the internet looking for you:

  • Your narcissist ex
  • Their current partner
  • People who don’t like you
  • People who want to be you.

It’s a madness, right? Like, why would any of these people waste their time looking at how happy you are in your life? But believe me, sometimes these people can’t help but look.

What’s worked in my favour at times is how social media savvy I am. I look at the likes on my IG (standard) but also pay attention to who is watching my stories. People who aren’t social media savvy don’t realise you can see them watching your IG Story updates. They don’t realise their usernames and profile photo are visible to you. I had someone who, despite not actively following me or liking any of my posts, would watch my stories daily. This same person would be cold and abrupt in person but would type my name into the search bar every day to watch Life Created by Annika (sounds like an epic name for a TV show). It was so weird.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

For a while, I created a sense of responsibility to this person. Perhaps they’d noticed red flags and was looking for confirmation to get out. Maybe they needed help from someone who’d been through the same. Or maybe they were curious about the woman who came before? They wanted validation that she really was a bitch like he said she was? Who knows?

It happened before with someone else who would stir the pot between myself and my ex. I’d experience outbursts and accusations, with no idea who was leaking misinformation about my life. It was confusing until one day somebody accidentally liked a Tweet and research told me who was behind it all.

I used to obsess about all the reasons why because over time I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. I felt like I couldn’t be myself on my social media because I didn’t know the intentions of those watching.

With the support of a few friends, I decided to block her because it really wasn’t healthy. This is the same action I’ve taken with others and I feel so much better for it.

When creating an online presence based on your personal life, it makes you vulnerable. You’re putting your experiences into a public space and you have no control over who consumes your posts. You are only responsible for yourself.

To keep yourself safe, it might be worth doing the following:

Keep other people’s name’s out of your posts.

It’s not necessary to expose all and sundry. Don’t fuel the fire. Don’t name and shame, unless there’s some sort of public outcry and it just has to happen. You can talk about your experiences without talking about the people involved. Think of it this way, they don’t deserve free promotion so why give them it?

Protect all children.

The older my children are, the more they express their feelings. I take a lot of photos but they don’t all make the ‘gram. Sometimes they don’t like me to share stuff and so I don’t.

Also, I’m mindful about how I share information about that. I never use their surnames (different from mine) and rarely even use their first names.

In photos from school assemblies, I go by procedure and crop out the faces of other children. I don’t tag their school or indicate what school they attend. I think part of me worries about child abductors watching content posted by parents, I know that sounds strange. I’m not even thinking about the strangers in the bushes; it’s the perpetrators of violence who are tracking their children down. You don’t know who’s fled abuse to build a new life, and how one careless photo can undo it all.

The least we post about children, more like the specifics, the better we can protect them. This means not sharing the names of their nursery or even what days they attend each week. We don’t need to tell the world everything when we’re creating content about our family lifestyle.

This is not at all a judgement call. As mothers, I believe we make the best decisions we can for our children. This is what runs through my head about mine.

Email is for associates and mobile number is for friends.

When I first became an author, I created some business cards and put my number on it. I distributed them at networking events, and then would be inundated with messages at random times of the night. While they’d begin friendly enough, they’d turn flirty and suggestive. None of this was my intention when giving the business card out in the first place. I didn’t like everyone having access to me, so I decided to be more selective.

Eventually, I purchased a separate phone for business/creative contacts and I still use it to this day. The number is on my business cards, yes, but it comes with some boundaries. I don’t respond to messages or answer phone calls after a certain time. I reply to my messages in my own time (essential when I have a day job). There’s no pressure for me to be available 24/7.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Curate your content with a fine-tooth comb

Before you post, ask yourself “do I really need to share this?”

Sometimes I’ve written a whole Facebook post and then just deleted it because it didn’t make sense to post. It’s harder to distinguish the relevance of what we share when we write about our lives anyway. This is why it makes sense to have a bit of a strategy in place.

I work in communications so it’s easy for me to talk about having a strategy, but I have actually created one for myself. Now I’m clear on my topics and what really doesn’t need to be shared. If I’m not happy to be confronted about it, I won’t be posting it and it really is that simple.

It’s like having a list of guidelines for yourself and being faithful to it.

Get legal advice.

Sometimes the above won’t work and you have no choice but to seek support for your own safety. You must protect yourself.

I’ve been followed after work but didn’t know until months later. It was too late to do anything about it then.

I know it can be scary calling the police or speaking to a solicitor. It’s likely you will initially dismiss your concerns. But I advise you to keep a diary, make a record of events, messages, phone calls, and gather the evidence.

Please see the Women’s Aid website for more information.

And please, prioritise your safety.

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