Think about the list of social media sites you use daily. What does it include? Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Instagram? Reddit? How safe is your information on those sites?
After reading another student’s blog post, I became interested in how online privacy works in conjunction with gender and found a few studies that peaked my interest. I was already on Twitter when #GamerGate exploded within the online geek community. A rabid group of mostly white, male video-gamers started attacking female game developers under the guise of “ethics in video game journalism.” Many of these attacks involved “doxing,” where someone’s personal information is disseminated so that they can be harassed in the real world, or “swatting,” which involves calling in a false emergency so that a large number of police officers will swarm an address.
Being both a nerd and a self-identifying woman, I watched with horror as lines were drawn. The whole situation got me checking and double checking my online privacy settings to make sure that I wasn’t in danger of being doxed myself. After the controversy died down, a conversation about the safety of women online surfaced and there have been several studies about how people of different genders navigate the dangerous online world.
According to Danielle Wawra, more North American women use social media than men, but their privacy settings are higher than men’s. But why is that?
I wonder if lessons that many females are taught in the real world translate into some safe behaviours online. Like women are constantly advised to be careful who they give their phone numbers to, who they speak to, how they present themselves, etc., women are also more careful with what information they share online. I also posit that perhaps the large profile cases of women whose privacy has been violated (like Leslie Jones’ Twitter debacle or the string of leaked celebrity nudes) encourages women to double down on their own privacy.
That’s not to say that men can’t be doxed, harassed, or otherwise damaged over social media. However, we do have to acknowledge that women are more at risk to this kind of behaviour than men. Regardless of gender, we all need to be more vigilant in protecting our information, especially as social media increasingly gets more personal.
*Note: I recognize that the study and my references throughout this piece conform to a gender binary. I found no literature that compares the online safety of people belong outside that binary, but I’d be interested in learning more about it.