Staying safe in the digital space

Johannesburg - The increasing reach of the internet, the rapid spread of mobile information and the widespread use of social media, coupled with the pandemic of violence against women and girls, has led to the emergence of cyber violence as a growing global problem with potentially significant economic and societal consequences.

Research shows that one in three women will have experienced a form of violence in her lifetime, and despite the relatively new and growing phenomenon of internet connectivity, it is estimated that one in 10 women have experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15.

Access to the internet is fast becoming a necessity for economic well-being and is increasingly viewed as a fundamental human right, so it is crucial to ensure that this digital public space is a safe and empowering place for everyone, including women and girls, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality.

“Women are more likely than men to be victims of severe forms of cyber violence, and the impact on their lives is far more traumatic,” said Jurgita Peciuriene, the European Institute for Gender Equality’s programme coordinator for gender-based violence.

Experts warn us not to think of cyber violence as a separate phenomenon to real-world forms of violence. Women and girls who have experienced sexual harassment, stalking or violence at the hands of an intimate partner “offline” are also often victims of “online” violence perpetrated by the same person.

As with all types of violence, cyber violence affects the lives of victims tremendously and comes in many forms.

Cyberstalking refers to a person repeatedly sending unwanted emails or text messages to their victims, and cyber harassment relates to offending a person online with unwanted sexually explicit messages, threats of violence or hate speech.

One of the most disturbing forms of online violence is non-consensual pornography, which former partners often commit. This means posting or distributing sexually graphic images or videos online without the subject’s permission.

Research suggests that up to 90% of non-consensual pornography victims are women and the number of cases is rising.

Here are some tips to safeguard your online life:

  • Guard your personal information:

Never respond to requests for personal or account information online or over the phone. When your ID number is requested as an identifier, ask if you can provide alternate information. Watch out for convincing imitations of banks, card companies, charities and government agencies.

  • Don’t overshare:

Don’t divulge your birth date, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name or any other identifying information on social-media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Social media has made cyberstalking much easier. A stalker can easily locate and track their target’s every move. Personal titbits collected over time can give them a whole picture of who you are, where you work, live and socialise.

Go and look through your profile now and delete any personal information that you find.

  • Stay up to date:

Install antivirus software on your computer and keep it updated. Use the latest version of your web browser. Install security patches and software updates as soon as they are available.

  • Make it difficult:

Another easy way to protect yourself online is with your password. Use unique and hard-to-guess passwords, and don’t access secure websites using public Wi-Fi.

The following online safety tips can help you manage your private information on social networks:

* Check the privacy settings of your profile and make sure they are set to the right level. Even if your social network is set to private, it doesn’t guarantee that your information is completely private.

* Remember that your friends’ friends might be able to see your posts and updates even if you are not friends with them.

* Pay attention to your friend list when you post or link yourself to certain things – there might be people there who don’t have your best interests at heart.

* Always remember that, once the internet gets hold of your information, you have no control over it. Anything you put up can be grabbed, copied and saved on someone else’s computer and mirrored on other sites.

* Be cautious about using geolocation services. Stalkers can easily access your location.

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