Tips for staying safe while you make comments on this blog
Duty of care for our readers is important to us at ACFJ. We try to keep the blog a safe place for survivors of domestic abuse. A place where they won’t be bombarded with comments from abusers or abusers’ allies. And a place where survivors can share without putting themselves at increased risk from their abusers. That is why we moderate every comment before it goes public.
We know that anonymity is important for many of our readers, especially when they are under continuing abuse from their abuser and his allies. As moderators of the blog, we will sometimes edit a comment that we think could pose a safety issue for the commenter. When we edit comments for safety reasons, we remove details that could identify the survivor to her family, friends, church network, etc. We call this ‘disidentifying’ the comment.
We want to share some thoughts and tips about how to remain anonymous and protect your safety when you are submitting comments at ACFJ or at other internet sites. For convenience’s sake, we shall refer to the commenter as female in this post.
Fields in the comment box
This is what the comment box looks like:
You must fill out the first field (Email) under the comment box, but your email address will not be visible on the front of the blog when your comment is published. It is only visible to the members of the ACFJ team who can moderate comments.
The second field (Name) — whatever you write in this field will become the screen name that will show at the top of your comment when it gets published. If you are concerned about protecting your privacy, it is essential to choose a screen name that will not identify you. Sometimes a reader, especially when she first finds our blog, is inexperienced in blogging and cyberspace and because of this she might give a screen name that could give her true identity away.
If you wish to use a screen name that does not identify you:
- Do not use your real name or initials (first, middle, or last).
- Do not use part or all of your email address.
- Your screen name doesn’t have to be a real name. It can be any word, or a combination of letters, numbers, or symbols.
- In most circumstances we encourage readers to use the same screen name for all their comments, so that other commenters “know” who they are talking with. However, there’s nothing wrong with using multiple screen names (and multiple WordPress accounts) if you think your abuser is reading the blog. Multiple screen names may make it more difficult for your abuser to identify you if he is following the blog.
The third field (Website) does not have to be filled out. If you do put a website address in this field and we decide to allow it, when other readers click on your gravatar at that comment they will be taken over to your own website. This may be risky for some of our commenters. When a gravatar is linked to the commenter’s own website, this tends to drive traffic to that person’s website. We decide whether to allow or remove the link to the commenter’s own website on a case by case basis, taking into account the commenter’s safety risks as we can best guesstimate them, and whether or not we feel okay about giving publicity to the other website.
The gravatar in the screen shot above is the little square box with a green design in it. Every WordPress account is given a different gravatar. On A Cry For Justice we have set the default so that gravatars have coloured symmetrical patterns. The patterns are generated automatically by WordPress, we have no say in that.
Occasionally one of our commenters has chosen to use their own photo (e.g. Barbara Roberts) or a photo of something other than their own face (e.g. Ida Mae) as their gravatar image. But if you haven’t specifically set your WordPress account so it displays your chosen image, your comments on this blog will show whatever symmetrical coloured pattern that WordPress assigns to you. This gravatar will appear each time a comment of yours is published on this blog. If you use multiple WordPress accounts, each account will have its own gravatar.
We cannot change your gravatar. If you believe your gravatar is putting you at risk, you will need to create a new WordPress account (or multiple accounts) for any future comments you make on the blog. If you desire, we can remove those comments made under your old gravatar and send you the text of them in an email (assuming you are confident your abuser does not have access to your email account), so that you can re-submit those comments, or paraphrases of them, using your new gravatar. But this might be risky if your abuser is a canny and attentive cyberstalker. If you want us to remove published comments of yours, email ‘the woman behind the curtain’ (twbtc) at firstname.lastname@example.org. The same applies if you want to change the screen name of your published comments. We can easily change screen names at the back of the blog.
The text of your comment
Yourself and your plans
In your comments, avoid mentioning details about yourself or your future plans that are too specific, i.e. occupation, hobbies, safety plans or plans to leave. What is ‘too specific’ will depend on each commenter’s situation. Some commenters are well and truly away from their abuser and no longer suffering post separation abuse — for them, it may be quite safe to reveal identifying details. Others are still living with their abusers or in the early separation stage and/or still working through the court system for child custody and divorce. Some are facing major persecution from their churches. For such readers, it’s usually better to disidentify.
History of your marriage
We encourage commenters to share their accounts of their marriages, but be careful to airbrush details that could be too identifying. For example, rather than saying “We have been married 32 years,” you could say “We’ve been married for about three decades.” Or rather than saying “We’ve been to five marriage counselors in the last 13 years,” you could say “We’ve been to several different marriage counselors over more than a decade.” And rather than saying, “I was 18 when I married him,” you could say “I married him when I was quite young.”
Information about your children, like ages and sexes, can be identifying. We encourage readers to not give exact ages, names, and how many children you have. For example, one could say “my older children” instead of “my three teenage boys”.
Disidentifying can also be important so that your children do not happen across the blog and realize that their mother is writing comments on it about them. Kids can have all sorts of different responses to abuse and to their mother’s needs for support and empathy — and not all those responses that kids have are favorable to the mother.
Family and Friends
Details of interactions your have had with church leaders, friends and family should be avoided because not only may your abuser recognize it, but it is common for leaders, friends and family and adult children of the victim to become the abuser’s allies and they may also read the blog.
Avoid giving details of the abuser’s behavior that might be non-generic. For example, your abuser having committed adultery is generic in that it’s a common feature of many abusers. But the detail about your X leaving the child at home alone, and dropping the child back to your place early after visitation might be a bit identifying, as those behaviors are not as common.
While we have given broad guidelines here, each person’s situation is different, so ultimately you know best what is safe to share and what is not. But when in doubt, ask yourself, “If my abuser or my abuser’s allies read this comment, would they know it was me? If they did know, how much could that put me at further risk of abuse? And is that a risk I am willing to take right now?”
You might also want to look at our list of resources for Cyber Safety and Social Networking.
This post was jointly written by Barb Roberts and TWBTC.