Tag Archives: offensive

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

In the world in which we all live, most people have to be online, regularly:

  • There is essential government and business information that can be accessed only online, or can be accessed most cheaply and easily online.
  • There is breaking news that can affect a person’s life or livelihood and, therefore, needs to be learned as close to real-time as possible – and that could happen only online.
  • There is information related to our work that is most quickly, easily accessed online.

And “online” includes using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, in many religiously-conservative communities around the world, women take a huge risk by being online, specifically in using social media. I explore this in a blog I wrote called virtue & reputation in the developing world. Because of threats to their reputation and safety, many women in religiously-conservative countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan have given up on having a virtual identity at all – I personally know two such women, both professionals. This greatly hinders their ability to connect with potential colleagues abroad that could help them in their work, to build up a professional reputation beyond the walls of their office or beyond the staff of the organization, and to access information essential for their work and life.

There are some ways for women to develop an online profile on social media, including Facebook, that allows them to access essential information, to post information and to network with professionals in their field of expertise, but still protect identities online. Here are some guidelines:

Choose a first and last name you will use online only
These should be names that are different from your real names. However, also try to create a name that isn’t a real name for someone else. You can also use just an initial for your first name – one letter.

Create an email address for your anonymous profile
Gmail is a good choice. Use something that in no way involves your real name. Associate this with social media accounts, rather than your work or university email address.

Be vague online about your employer or university
On any social media site, such as Facebook, do not say the full, real name of your employer or the university where you currently attend. Identify yourself more vaguely, such as:

  • employee of an Afghan government ministry
  • assistant at a Egyptian dental office
  • nurse at a hospital in Kuwait
  • student at a university in Kabul

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.
Talk to people face-to-face that you trust and that know your real name if you want to friend them on Facebook, if you can, and tell them why it is so important that they keep your identity a secret if you link on social media. If you have an argument with that person, will he or she reveal your true identity online? You must friend only people who you can trust who know your real name, and those people need to understand that they must NOT tell others who you are online or make comments that would reveal who you are. When in doubt, don’t friend local people at all and just focus on international colleagues who fully understand your situation or do not know you offline at all.

Do not share photos of yourself where your face can be seen
You can share photos of yourself on social media where your identity cannot be determined. For instance, if you were standing with your back to the camera, and not wearing distinctive clothing. Or a photo of just your hands.

Do not share photos of family or friends
This could make it easier for people to figure out who you are.

Have a physical address that isn’t your home or workplace
Sometimes, to register on a particular web site, you must provide a physical address of either your home or work place. Pick a public place as the address you will use: a public library or a book store are good choices. Those places may end up getting paper mail addressed to your fake identity, and that’s okay: there is no way for this to be traced back to you and it won’t be mail you want. Never use your actual home, work place or university address for your anonymous profile.

Post status updates that do not indicate your identity
You can share memes and news stories (always verify them first and ensure they are true), write status updates about the weather, write your opinion of current affairs, or offer advice related to your country or your profession. But don’t write specifics, such as “I just attended a great class on the state of water and sanitation in Luxor”, as that’s too specific and could be used by someone who reads it to figure out who you are.

Be careful when commenting on the Facebook status updates of friends
If one of your colleagues posts a status update, and you comment that “I look forward to talking to you about this at the staff meeting on Monday at 4”, one of their other friends who is NOT your online friend may figure out who you are. Instead, you could say, “I look forward to talking to you about this soon.”

Never use this anonymous account from work
The risk is too great of someone seeing your screen, or your walking away from your desktop and someone using the “back” button to scroll through the screens you have visited and find that you forgot to log out of Facebook – they will be able to see your anonymous profile as a result.

Be careful about posting in online discussion groups
There are online discussion groups regarding topics related to your work. By all means, join such a forum and read the posts. But be careful about posting, including replying to others. When you post, you reveal your IP address. This will NOT reveal your name, your home address, your age, etc. But your IP address may reveal where you work IF you are accessing the group from your workplace’s Internet connection and if that connection is configured a certain way.

Practice denying your online activities
People are going to ask you if you are on Facebook or Twitter. Practice saying no. Also practice your response to someone who says, “Is so-and-so on Facebook really you?”

If someone you do not know starts messaging your fake account, be careful about engaging with them. If they are asking “Who are you?” or “Why did you say that?”, ignore them. If they are asking how you know a shared friend, ignore them. If they become insulting, block them. If they say they are a reporter and they saw your post somewhere and would like to interview you, ask them what newspaper or TV station they work for, ask for their full name, and then look up that organization online and call them and ask if that person works there. In other words, make absolutely sure it’s a REAL journalist that is asking you questions!

If anyone threatens you online, screen capture those messages and save them. If anyone threatens you online with physical harm in any way and you believe that person could figure out who you are, it may be best for you to block them and delete your account. Your safety is always paramount and you should do what you need to do to stay safe.

Why am I not recommending that a person contact the company that operates the platform or social media site to report harassment, or to contact local police department? That is certainly an option if you live in a country that has rule of law. However, if you live in a developing country or a country that has laws that censor Internet access, such reporting could actually put you in danger. Even so, hold on to your screen captures of threatening messages and share them with a person you trust if you feel they represent a real threat to you or your family.

Also see:

Orange Day: UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign

The United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, managed by UN Women, has proclaimed every 25th of the month as “Orange Day” – a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls. Orange Day calls upon activists, governments and UN partners to mobilize people and highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, not only once a year, on 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), but every month.

Orange Day 2017 action themes so far:

February: Violence Against Women and Girls and Women’s Economic Empowerment

March: Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities

April: Violence against indigenous women and girls

May: Mobilizing resources to end violence against women and girls

June: Violence against women and girl refugees

July’s theme was Cyber violence against women. The official statement from UNiTe notes: “Although children have long been exposed to violence and exploitation, ICTs have changed the scale, form, impact and opportunity for the abuse of children everywhere. While both girls and boys are vulnerable to the different risks and harms related to the misuse of ICTs, girls have been disproportionately victimized in sexual abuse and exploitation through the production and distribution of child sexual abuse materials. In 2013, 81 per cent of child sexual abuse materials depicted girls. Girls are also particularly vulnerable to being groomed online for sexual encounters and sometimes exploited through live streaming of their sexual abuse. Many children are experiencing widespread victimization through online bullying, harassment, and intimidation, where girls are particularly targeted due to gender norms and power dynamics. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, difficulty with language, poverty, and cultural factors can adversely affect girls and lead to their heightened vulnerability to these crimes and victimization.” SDG 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is focused on Gender Equality, and places women’s access to technological empowerment as one of the core indicators for progress. “To achieve this goal, we must make sure that the internet will be a safe and more secure place that allows all women and girls to fulfill their potential as valued members of society and live a life free from violence.”

UNiTE has curated several resources related to such:

  • The Broadband Commission Working Group on Digital Gender Divide recently published a set of recommendations that specifically addresses threats aimed both at promoting better understanding and awareness of the ways in which women experience threats, and ensuring that stakeholders help to make the Internet and its use safer for women (page 32). Proposed actions include researching and understanding threats, increasing awareness of threats and how they can be addressed or reduced, developing safety applications and services and strengthening protection measures and reporting procedures.
  • The “Perils and Possibilities: Growing up Online” report, recently published by UNICEF, provides a glimpse into young people’s opinions and perspectives on the risks they face coming of age in a digital world.UNICEF is collaborating with companies, governments and civil society to promote children’s rights related to the Internet and associated technologies. Take a look at their online depository of new business tools and guidance on child online protection which among others includes useful resources, learning materials, and tools for companies.
  • UNICEF is collaborating with companies, governments and civil society to promote children’s rights related to the Internet and associated technologies. Take a look at UNICEF’s online depository of new business tools and guidance on child online protection which among others includes useful resources, learning materials, and tools for companies.
  • The Guidelines for Child Online Protection, prepared by ITU, outline best practices and key recommendations for different interest groups, including policy makers, industry, children, as well as parents, guardians, and educators. More resources on Child Online Protection from ITU’s database.
  • INHOPE is an active and collaborative global network of Hotlines, dealing with illegal online content and committed to stamping out child sexual abuse from the Internet. The network offers a way of anonymously reporting Internet material including child sexual abuse material they suspect to be illegal.
  • Launched in January, HeartMob is a project of Hollaback!, a non-profit organization powered by a global network of local activists who are dedicated to ending harassment in public spaces. The platform provides real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment and empowers bystanders to act.

It’s also worth reading Women’s Rights Online, a report from 2015 from the Web Foundation that shows that the dramatic spread of mobile phones is not enough to get women online, or to achieve empowerment of women through technology. The study, based on a survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries, found that while nearly all women and men own a mobile phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the Internet than men in the same communities, with Internet use reported by just 37% of women surveyed (vs 59% of men). Once online, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the Internet to increase their income or participate in public life. The report says young people are most likely to have suffered harassment online, with over six in 10 women and men aged 18 – 24 saying they had suffered online abuse. The Web Foundation was established by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Also see:

On behalf of a Forest Grove family

I am working with the family of the student that instigated the “Build a Wall” banner incident at Forest Grove High School yesterday. On my blog, I am sharing the apology letter from the student that was emailed earlier today to the main address of Forest Grove High School. It was addressed to:

Ms. Karen O’Neill
Ms. Tami Erion
Mr. Brian Burke
Mr. Doug Thompson
Ms. Yvonne Curtis

 

I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission.

Again, this content is from the letter student to Forest Grove high school earlier today, and these are the words and sentiments of that student:

Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,

On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss  sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.

But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was – but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.

I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt – I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.

I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.

I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much – a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way – and I want them to be safe.

I am withholding the student’s name, but it is known to all school administrators. The family will be working with others to explore ways to further educate this family member, and all their children, about the consequences of words and actions, about racism, and about community responsibilities. Respectful, meaningful suggestions for this family regarding such action are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.

This blog was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. on May 19, 2016. This edit is from 4:34 p.m.:

I did not write the letter. The student wrote the letter. I did edit the first draft of the letter regarding grammar, and later, encouraged him to add some sentences based on things I heard him saying verbally in discussions with his family I was able to observe. The words are all his.

For the press: if you want to confirm that this is the content of the letter that was sent to the school, please call the school – they will confirm for you.

This edit  was posted on May 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.:

For folks that want to understand the many circumstances that lead up to this banner being put up and to the protest in Forest Grove on May 19, 2016, there are three media stories that, altogether, provide a good overview of how complicated the issues and feelings in Forest Grove are:

Unlikely allies agree hurtful language cuts both ways

Trump supporters feel the hate

Student protests about more than just a banner

And on a related note is this article about a commencement speaker at California State Fullerton getting booed. What I like about it is that students on both sides of the issue are interviewed.

Virtue & reputation in the developing world

womantargetMy Facebook newsfeed is filled with posts from my male Afghan colleagues, talking about their travels, their work, their children, sharing photos, etc. But rare is the post from Afghan women I’ve worked with. And recently, I was reminded yet again of why that is.

In some countries, a woman’s reputation regarding her virtue is every bit as important as food and health care, in terms of prosperity, let alone survival. When you are a girl or a woman in Afghanistan, or many other countries, you can’t just shrug at insults regarding your morals or honor. You do not have that privilege. You have to care deeply about what neighbors and co-workers and, really, what anyone might say about your virtue. Damage to your reputation regarding your virginity, your marriage, your care for your children, your sexuality, how you dress, how you behave in social settings, and everything else that makes up one’s moral character can cost a woman a job, her family, her marriage – even her life.

I was gobsmacked to find out just how true this was when I lived in Afghanistan for six months back in 2007 – my Afghan female co-workers were immobilized at times by fear of gossip about their honor. But it’s not just in that country: I heard a few comments when I lived in Ukraine that made me realize that, to a degree, it can be true there as well.

I was reminded of all this per an article in the Washington Post regarding women in Afghanistan who are being virtually assaulted, their Facebook profiles duped to create a second, fake profile, their friends invited to “friend” that profile, and then come the fake posts boasting of drug use and illicit behavior, attributed to the person being targeted. The identity thieves steal the women’s photos and steal and repost personal information publicly. Or, the woman’s actual account is hacked, the password changed so that she can no longer control the account – and the same tactic used: fake posts boasting of illicit behavior, altered photos of the woman drinking alcohol, etc. “Respectable reputations are demolished with a few keystrokes.” In addition, a woman on Facebook in Afghanistan may end up with an inbox deluged with pornography and violent threats from aggressive suitors and alleged militants. It leaves the women terrified of even their own family members, as the article details.

In the article, an Internet cafe owner talks about his attempts to help the many young women who are devastated to find out their profile has been duped or hacked with such reputation-destroying information and frantic to get the information removed. Sadly, his reports to Facebook aren’t taken seriously. The article says, “He suspects that the threats are so culturally specific — a profile photo showing a woman’s face or a beer Photoshopped into a photo of a female gathering, for example — that they often go unnoticed by Facebook administrators reviewing flagged accounts. What may look like an innocent account in the United States can be full of menacing innuendo to Afghan eyes.”

But there’s another reason that keeps so many women in Afghanistan and other countries off of social media as well: the Tall Poppy Syndrome. People talking about an accomplishment can be seen as bragging, and many feel that tall flower has to be cut down to the same size as all the others. The phrase is particularly popular in Australia, though some people say it isn’t success that offends Australians but, rather, someone that acts superior. But in many places, a woman saying anything on social media, except for praising the deity of her religion, is seen as bragging – and she becomes a target for her “tall” reputation being cut down. If you don’t believe that, search for malala yousafzai criticized on Google.

For all these reasons, many women in Afghanistan and other countries have given up on having a virtual identity at all – I personally know of two such women. This greatly hinders their ability to connect with potential colleagues abroad that could help them in their work, to build up a professional reputation beyond the walls of their office or beyond the staff of the organization, and build a career.

Of course, it hasn’t always been so easy in the Western world for a woman to shrug off gossip. In Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, warns her father that the consequences of her sister Lydia’s reputation as a flirt affects “our importance, our respectability in the world”, noting that when a girl is perceived as being a flirt, it is the girl’s family members that pay the price: “Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?” 200 years later, no girl in the USA has to have that scene explained to her, even in our world of celebrity sex tapes and leaked nude photos and wardrobe malfunctions. Many women worldwide, even in “the West,” still fear loss of reputation through gossip, even if the consequences aren’t nearly as dire as in other countries.

By contrast, I now live in a privileged world where I can choose to shrug at personal insults thrown my way regarding my virtue, my moral behavior, etc. I know who I am, that I strive for integrity in my professional world and in personal matters, I know that the people I love and respect in my life know my true character and morals, and for me, that’s all that matters. If someone calls me a whore, I can simply roll my eyes and say, “Please call me Her Royal Highness and Whore, as it is my correct title,” and then I can go on about my day.

I’m from the Bible belt, and I’ve lived all over the USA, and I find that “but what will people think?!” is a mentality that still very much exists back home. I’m not sure when exactly I shed that mentality, but I do remember the first time I heard a story that says there was a man who constantly harassed and insulted the Buddha, but the Buddha never seemed fazed by it. When someone asked why he didn’t take offense to the insults, he replied, “If someone gives you a gift and you refuse to accept it, the gift stays with the giver.” I remember thinking: that’s what I want to strive for. Though, full disclosure: insults about my looks, my age, my weight, etc., still feel like punches in my gut, anc criticism of my work, and my approach to work, can sting. But insults about my virtue? Have at it – I don’t care.

So we, in the West, do understand, to a degree, the perils of gossip regarding moral behavior for our sisters in other countries. But what’s to be done? We certainly need to pressure social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to better respond to complaints of duping and hacking. But should we also encourage a new way of thinking: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”? I’m not sure it’s possible to become unoffendable – but could an entire culture be taught, deliberately, to become less so? Would that be a part of women’s empowerment, of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly #5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls?

Regardless, it should serve as a caution to humanitarian and development workers wanting NGOs and government agencies to engage more on social media; you need to provide guidance for the women who would be expected to manage online activities on how to stay safe and protect their personal reputations.

January 4, 2016 update: See this post on TechSoup that summarizes an article about the risks taken by women in Pakistan, particularly female students, who use social media, and highlights the work of Nighat Dad, a lawyer in Pakistan who works to help women stay safe online.

Also see:

Have I offended?


A few years ago, whilst doing a training in Louisville, Kentucky, I explained that online volunteers shouldn’t be segregated in program management from traditional onsite volunteers, that they are just volunteers, like all other volunteers, and should be treated as such. An attendee was outraged that I had used the phrase just volunteers, even though it was obvious that I had meant solely or specifically, not merely.

A university student in one of my classes told me she didn’t like my use of the words target and setting my sights on something, because these were “references based in violence” (her words). I admit that, later,  I smugly chastised her over her own use of the phrase rule of thumb.

A workshop attendee in Egypt told me it was outrageous that I said volunteers should get written descriptions of the tasks they were getting or that there should be any talk of their commitment or performance. “We should accept their help and be grateful for whatever they can give! We have no right to ask for anything more!” She was almost in tears as she said this.

And then there’s the infamous Florida workshop at the Corporation for National Service conference from the 1990s, where a team of trainers, including me, tried to encourage a group of SeniorCorps program leaders to adjust their recruitment tactics in order to better attract seniors from the Baby Boomer generation. I don’t think I will ever recover from that.

These incidents – and lots of others I could talk about – prompted me to put a slide at the beginning of all of my presentations, called modus operandi. I tell the group there are no stupid questions, that I might not have all the answers, etc. And I also ask for no GOTCHA moments, where an attendee immediately becomes outraged at something I’ve said. I ask that, if anyone hears me say something that they think is offensive to please raise their hand and ask me to clarify. Some people have done so, and it’s helped head off a lot of bad feelings, because most of the time, I did not at all mean what they thought I meant.

I realize that there is no way in the world to avoid saying something that someone won’t like, but I really do want to connect with my audience, on a human level, and for us to be able to treat each other with respect and openness. I love training, and if there is an obstacle to my overall message getting out because of something I’ve said, or a perception of what I’ve said, I want that obstacle addressed post haste.

My work is out there in the public sphere for anyone to read and criticize. That’s the nature of my work, and it can be scary. Most of my work isn’t tucked away on an intranet at a humanitarian organization or in a classroom or high-priced academic journal – it’s on my web site, on my blog, on YouTube, on social media, even on other people’s web sites. It’s not easy to live with that much public scrutiny, and the criticism of me and my work can often be downright hateful, as we Kentuckians say (or, at least, as the Kentuckians I grew up with would say).

I was born and raised in Kentucky, and am fiercely proud of the fact. Fiercely. Ask my non-Kentucky friends and colleagues: they will tell you that they are sick of hearing about my beloved home state. Kentucky is like so many other states I’ve lived in or visited – Texas, Tennessee, Vermont, Iowa – or even other regions of the world – Ukraine, Catalunya, the Westerwald of Germany – where residents are intensely proud of being from that region, where there are unique aspects of their way of talking, even the way they dress, and they have faced jokes – sometimes good-natured, sometimes cruel – about their culture, including their accents. People from such regions get called out almost immediately anywhere else because of their accents, and they can be very sensitive about comments made about their culture, especially when most images about their culture in the media are negative.

Upon hearing that I am from Kentucky, I have heard comments all over the world which have stung me. There is a very particular joke that Germans have about Kentucky that I won’t repeat here, but when Germans would hear I was from Kentucky, and smirk, I would say the joke, in German, and they would be flabberghasted that I knew their “secret.” Instead of being offended, I turned the tables, and it actually often lead to some really great conversations about Kentucky – they got to learn just what an interesting, beautiful place it is, in contrast to what they thought. I hear a lot of hurtful comments from people from other countries when they learn I’m from the USA, because of how they perceive this country, based on our foreign policy, our movies and our TV shows. I have to find a way not to become overwhelmed with outrage at their comments, however cruel, because I’m there to work with them. I guess that’s why it takes a lot to offend me, as someone from Kentucky or from the USA as a whole.

Because of this worldwide perception of Kentucky, I sometimes comment about it at the start of a workshop I’m doing. It’s my way of disarming (oops, gun reference!) the audience: yes, I know you hear the accent, however slight. It’s also my way to represent: hey, you are going to get communications and tech advice from a gal from KENTUCKY – get your stereotypes about my state around THAT! I hope that, by the end of the workshop, they have not only learned about communications strategies, social media, volunteer management, etc. – I hope they have a new, better opinion of people from Kentucky.

I do just that at the start of this video. And it was recently brought to my attention that a Kentucky university professor was offended because of it. She didn’t tell me, however. Instead, she told her colleagues about her offense. Someone else had to tell me about her judgment.

So let me make it clear that my modus operandi isn’t just for my workshops; it’s also regarding my web site, this blog, and anything else I do online. If you read something of mine that you think is offensive, write me, via email (jc@coyotecommunications.com) or, as so many have done, in the comments section of my blog, and immediately ask me to clarify. Maybe I don’t mean what you think I mean. Maybe it’s exactly what I meant. But you won’t ever know unless you ask me.

And, no, I’m not wearing shoes right now. And I did use an outhouse last week, but it was in Canada.

Also see:

Could your organization be deceived by GOTCHA media?

Feuds in the nonprofit/NGO/charity world