One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Foursquare May Have Safety Risks for Users August 16, 2011

Foursquare, a location-based social networking website for mobile phones that allows users to “check in” at locations of interest and compete with others for both virtual and real-life rewards, has grown in popularity to over 10 million users since its launch in 2009 (including, recently, President Obama). The program uses GPS to establish check-ins, which are then sent to users’ friends within the foursquare network and linked to Twitter and Facebook if they choose.

A recent Wall Street Journal study found that 60% of foursquare check-ins in a given week are made by men, as compared to 38% by women. Tech experts often explain tech differences like this in terms of men’s greater likelihood of becoming early adopters of social media, but foursquare’s statistics may be related to another concern for women users: safety.

I don’t use foursquare because of concerns about the safety of sharing my real-time location over the internet. But choosing not to use foursquare hasn’t completely protected me from location sharing because it has become a feature on other social media platforms as well. I realized recently I’d been accidentally broadcasting my location to all of my Twitter followers with every tweet because I had unknowingly clicked a button below the text box on my Android phone. My Twitter account is public, so I was shaken to realize how much information readers had been receiving.

Leo Hickman, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote an article last year about how he was able to stalk a random woman at a sporting event based on her foursquare posts. He raised concerns about privacy issues related to foursquare. “Sure, you might earn yourself a “free” decaf latte when you check in five times at a coffee shop, but at what price to your privacy?” Hickman wrote. In 2010, a San Francisco programmer was able to capture 875,000 supposedly private check-ins through a security loophole that was later fixed.

Location-based social media have exciting prospects, but some have noted that women in particular may not feel as free to use them for fear of unwanted surveillance. Especially for those involved in abusive relationships or for victims of stalkers, foursquare and programs like it could be used as weapons. And in a culture that frequently blames sexual assault victims because of their outfits or their level of intoxication, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that victims could also be blamed for “putting themselves out there” and inviting victimization by allowing others to view their locations on social media platforms.

Many tech experts say GPS-based apps will become even more ubiquitous in the future, and other social media platforms have already begun to adopt location-based elements. My experience with the GPS feature on Twitter caused me to scrutinize my privacy settings for my other social media accounts, but I still don’t feel confident I completely understand my chosen settings. I feel concerned that sites like Facebook may have made privacy deliberately complicated, causing users to choose more relaxed settings that allow advertisers to mine their data more easily.

How will developers be able to ensure safety as they continue to curate this technology? In a male-dominated field like computer science, how can we work to ensure an individual’s unique privacy concerns are taken into consideration throughout the development of new products? Leave a comment below to weigh in!

 

It Takes A Village… August 2, 2011

The concept of domestic violence as a “personal matter” and not a community concern hardly qualifies as novel. With 175 million registered users on Twitter alone and 4 million Tweets every hour, social media has become the way of connecting with others. But as it extends beyond our personal lives, further-reaching opportunities surface in tandem to speak out about injustices that we see and are frustrated by. In doing so, domestic violence is one of those injustices that has moved from the private into the very public consciousness of a larger world.  More of us are using social media to do good. An example of that is the recent case of Rumana Monzur.

Monzur, a Bangladeshi woman who had traveled as a Fulbright scholar to the University of British Colombia in Vancouver. She returned home in May missing her daughter and husband, to write her dissertation. After showing her husband pictures of her with a fellow male student, he attacked her, accusing her of having an extramarital affair.  He gouged out her eyes, leaving her blind and severely traumatized her daughter who stood by.

Domestic violence victims sometimes experience shame around their attacks and often believe if they had acted differently, perhaps their partners wouldn’t hurt them.  This shame  is not unique and pervades many discussions around interpersonal violence, regardless of geographic locations. Victims often worry that if they speak out against their abusers, their character and actions will be questioned.  This can be especially challenging when the abuser has become a part of the family.  No one wants to believe that the person that they have come to accept as a son or daughter in law is actually an abuser.

While Monzur might have suffered from these fears, her family and friends encouraged her to speak out about the attack.   A Facebook page detailing her attack as well as an online donation page for her recovery fueled by her family and friends were created so that her side of the story would be known. She also interviewed with a local Bangladeshi news station and posted the interview on Youtube.

The community of people who rallied around Monzur serves as a terrific example of how using social media can help all of us understand intimate partner violence as a public issue that collectively we have a social responsibility to eliminate.   Across the world activists in every imaginable area use social media to challenge that culture of shame and offer instead, a culture of support for victims.  These kind of public responses also put culpability back on the abuser where it belongs, rather than on the victim.   One woman’s example also encourages other victims of abuse to feel comfortable sharing their testimonies, “I lost my eyes,” says Monzur. “I don’t want anyone to suffer like I am suffering. It is horrible.”

Using social media to build awareness about interpersonal violence in one step that we can take to be active bystanders for survivors.  Social media also affords us the advantage of quiet activism, where we don’t need to be out in front at a rally or defending someone in a bar but behind our computer or smart phone.  We can quietly type away words of support on our Twitter feed,  a blog post (like this one!) or on our Facebook wall to our own network who influence us as we do them.  Any small step can be a great step.

What are some ways that you use social media to help raise awareness around issues that are important to you?  Leave us a comment.

 

 
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