Facebook is giving victims back power over their abusers
When the #MeToo movement took off, Facebook was alight with stories from women about the abuse they’ve faced in their lives. A lot of abuse towards women takes place online, and Facebook is taking some big steps to help protect women who use its site.
The suite of new anti-harassment tools announced this week by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, was designed in consultation with victims’ advocates to provide the kind of protection that oft-targeted groups, like journalists and women, need online. It’s also geared specifically toward survivors of domestic violence.
One of the tools helps Facebook track and block users who create multiple profiles in order to harass people. Another one allows victims of harassment and bullying to silence conversations, which gives them the ability to collect evidence of stalking and harassment without having to unexpectedly see messages from their abusers. According to Cindy Southworth, executive vice president and founder of the Safety Net Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), this can replace blocking abusers, and it allows victims to keep tabs on their abusers without engaging with them in any way.
“These survivors don’t want to block their ex or their abusive partner, because they want to know his tone, his state of mind, if he’s tried to contact them daily or hourly, instead of weekly or monthly,” she explained, adding that she hopes more survivors will choose to be on Facebook now, instead of avoiding it because of the danger of further harassment.
Of course, it’s not just abusive partners or exes that women need to be concerned with when navigating social media waters. Perfect strangers can be their own brand of horrible and scary.
“We know that so much of domestic violence is about power, control, and isolation,” she explained. “Social media can be this phenomenal way to reconnect with your entire network of support that you were spliced away from during the abuse. I don’t want any survivor to think, ‘I have to isolate myself again to protect myself online.’ These granular features will make a huge difference in their lives.”
It’s kind of genius, if you think about it. Blocking an abuser will stop their messages from coming (at least temporarily), but having a way of knowing when they’re trying to make contact without having to see the messages is so much more useful.
“No one should ever experience harassment, either in person or online,” says Sandberg. “These new features will provide more ways to stop it from happening on Facebook.”
Here’s hoping it works, because if 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that we women aren’t putting up with this shit anymore.