Today, friends, we need to get serious about a thing, and that thing is privacy. The fact of the matter is that being a woman online is scary. Not a week goes by that you don’t hear a horror story about a woman being stalked or harassed online in the comics community; I, and my fellow Riot lady staff, have received threats just for doing our daily jobs of community moderation.
That’s not to say that it can’t be scary being a man online, but women are perceived and treated differently than men. It happens every day, in our day-to-day IRL lives, but it’s more pronounced, more noticeable, online. There are areas of the comics world that can be very hostile and unfriendly to women (or really, anyone not a straight white man) online; it’s important for us to take steps to guard our privacy. And this advice isn’t gendered; privacy is an important thing for anyone to guard.
This is where Violet Blue’s A Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online (No Starch Press) comes in. Blue is an investigative tech reporter with a large online following and someone who has had to take major steps to protect her privacy; she knows what she’s talking about.
“Most men don’t have to deal with being a target their whole lives the same way that women do—including people who are female gendered, female bodied, and all along the spectrum of gender expression,” says Blue. The truth is, when I talk about diversity issues within comics and the larger comics industry on Twitter and on Panels, it feels like I have a big target on my back. I’m just waiting for the gatekeepers to try and correct me or tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. And the sad fact is, that is the best-case scenario; it’s going to happen. I just have to hope it happens in a mildly annoying way, and not in a way in which someone threatens or harasses me, or worse.
The more I’ve been online, the more I’ve felt the need to protect my privacy. That’s why I found the advice in Blue’s book so helpful. She has a no-nonsense way of talking about these issues that is really refreshing and comforting: “The most important problem with modern privacy discussions is that we aren’t addressing the critical difference between how men and women perceive privacy—most men aren’t targets but women are,” yet the agenda of these discussions is almost always set by men, not to mention the systems we use online and are asked to entrust our privacy to are designed mostly by men. That’s why it’s important to take steps beyond what is obvious to protect our privacy.
Many of the recommendations Blue makes: using a Password Manager, using distinct passwords for each website, using PIN numbers and passwords on phones and computers, for example, I do already. But many of her suggestions, more nuanced and more complicated, made me sit down and think. Blue is realistic that there’s often a battle between the need to keep our privacy and the need for convenience; it’s up to you to decide where that line is.
The preventative information is incredibly helpful, but Blue also includes resources and practical, step-by-step guides on what to do if the worst case scenario happens: your computer is hacked, your identity is stolen, your private photos are leaked. I can’t imagine the anxiety that these situations would produce, but I do know that it’s nice to have a guide for, “This horrible thing happened to you online. You think there’s no going back from it, but there is. Here’s your first step.”
The bottom line is that while thinking about these things isn’t fun or enjoyable, it’s absolutely necessary if you’re a lady with any kind of online presence. “As women, we’re targeted just because we show up,” Blue says. It’s up to each one of us to protect our own privacy, and The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is a crucial weapon in that fight.