“Help! My Ex is Harassing Me Online”

behindthescreens-harassmentThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the previous posts here and here

Breakups are a difficult time for any couple, but they can be an especially difficult and potentially dangerous time for survivors of abusive relationships. Even if you’re able to safely leave the relationship, the abusive partner can still cause harm from afar in a variety of ways. Technology and social media create new spaces where abuse can take place. This is called digital abuse, and it is just as unacceptable as any other form of abuse.

Even if your ex-partner did not exhibit abusive behaviors during the relationship, there’s still a possibility that feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, loneliness, or loss of control could lead them to become abusive online. They could hack into your email accounts or send unwanted emails, post unwanted messages or pictures on social media sites, or create fake profiles to harass you and people you know. If your ex is harassing you online, here are some ways to handle it:

  • Clearly tell your ex to stop harassing you, if you feel safe doing so. It’s important to let your ex know that what they are doing is abusive, preferably in a way that lets you keep a record of your request either by saving the text or email you send, or taking a screenshot of a message you send online. After you have told your ex to stop the harassment, do not respond to any future communications.
  • Save everything. You might wish to delete the unwanted messages immediately, but try to keep a record of any communications your ex sends. Save emails and chat logs, take screenshots of status updates, direct messages, comments, pictures, or websites.
  • Take steps to increase your online privacy. Check to make sure that the settings on any social media site you belong to are set to maximum privacy. Change your passwords, block or unfriend your ex, and don’t provide details of your social plans or whereabouts online – this includes avoiding “checking in” to places on Facebook or using apps like Foursquare.
  • If your ex is harassing you via email, create a separate email account with an uncrackable password to use only with people you trust. This way, you can communicate with friends and family via the new email address and you won’t have to see your ex’s emails everyday. Again, save any abusive emails that your ex sends to you, but do not respond to them.
  • Let people in your support system know that your ex is harassing you, if you feel comfortable doing so. Make them aware of your safety plan so they aren’t tagging you when they check in to places or otherwise mentioning your location online. It’s important not to go through this alone and for others to be aware of your ex’s behavior. If your ex tries to contact people you know, ask them not to respond and to keep records of those communications as well.
  • If you believe your life is being threatened and/or if the harassment continues or escalates, you might consider taking legal action. All states have laws against cyberstalking, and it could help to speak with a legal advocate about protective orders or other legal measures. If you choose to pursue legal recourse, a record of your ex’s abusive communications would be useful.

If you are experiencing digital abuse from an ex or current partner, a good resource is WHO@ (Working to Halt Online Abuse), a volunteer organization established to fight online harassment through education of the public and empowerment of victims. also has information about cyberstalking and online safety.

You can always call the hotline anytime day or night at 1-800-799-7233 to speak with an advocate about options and support. Remember, everyone has the right to live free from abuse, online and off.


How to Maximize Online Privacy

behindthescreens-privacyThis is the second post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the first post, What is Digital Abuse?, here

Online privacy is a bit of an oxymoron. According to Ed Gibson, former head of cybersecurity at Microsoft and director of security at PWC Global, data that is posted on the internet should be regarded as permanent after 20 minutes, even if the originator has deleted the file. Nevertheless, 86% of internet users have tried to use the internet in ways to minimize the visibility of their digital footprints.

Despite a majority of internet users’ attempts at maintaining some privacy, social networking companies like Facebook are regularly tweaking their privacy policies, slowly making themselves (and as a result, their users) more public. Location-based apps can glean information from your mobile phone, and advertisers can use swaths of search history and site cookies to better target potential customers.

It’s all a little scary, right?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, or if you’ve left one, you are likely even more concerned than the average person about maintaining privacy online. For most of us it may not be possible to opt out of using the internet altogether, but there are a few things you can do to maximize your online privacy:

  • Check your privacy settings regularly on all social media sites that you use, and update them as needed. Lifehacker maintains an up-to-date article about new Facebook privacy changes.
  • Try to create “uncrackable” passwords and change them regularly. Don’t share your passwords with anyone you don’t know or trust completely. Remember, you can exercise your “digital rights.”
  • Read the privacy policies of any app or site that you sign up for. Many people do not do this, but it will help you get a lot of clarity into how the company or site is collecting and using your information.
  • Avoid oversharing personal information online. Don’t post your address, phone number, email, full birth date, or any other identifying information on any social networking site. Sites like Facebook request a lot of personal information now (including place of work, hometown, etc), but it is absolutely not imperative to post yours.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit based in California, provides a wealth of information about protecting your privacy in many areas of your life, including online. They offer some additional tips on staying safe and secure on the net, and be sure to check out a few of their other articles, too:

Using the Internet Safely
Online Privacy FAQ

If you have questions about how you can make online safety part of your overall safety plan, our advocates are here to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233, 24/7, or chat with us here on the website, Monday through Friday from 9am-7pm CST. It’s always free, anonymous, and confidential.