This chapter explains how to act on your duty of care to:
Educate users and staff around the risks and safety of digital tech
Train and empower staff to recognise and respond to signs of online and offline abuse when delivering via digital channels
It will also help you think about how to apply your usual working practices to digital and remote working environments.
Although technology offers charities and their beneficiaries opportunities for support and safeguarding, they also offer perpetrators many new ways to exploit, isolate and control, sometimes covertly. Many of these new ways can be defined as ‘cyber stalking’ and include threats to impersonate, harm reputation and cause physical injury.
Cyber-stalking, threatening reputation and physical injury
Constant checking of a victim’s phone and social media accounts
Threats and bullying via messaging, email and/or social media
Identity theft and impersonation
Malicious comments to discredit
Removal of technology to isolate a victim
Using apps to gain access to a victim’s webcam
Threats to share images e.g. ‘revenge porn’
Using spyware to monitor a victim’s online behaviour
Setting up alias accounts
Repeated and constant messaging
Hidden cameras (inserted in the property of a victim or their family)
Using GPS technology to track a victim’s whereabouts
Using geo-tagging technology in photos
Using the Internet of Things to monitor, control and abuse victims. UCL’s IoT abuse guide.
This list is not exhaustive. As technology develops, so do means of abuse and control. Organisations should consider the needs and context of their client group and their technology habits.
What is digital abuse? (Love is Respect)
Online Harms White Paper (DCMS and Home Office)
Cyberstalking in the United Kingdom (University of Bedfordshire)
It’s not always easy to recognise it. And victims may not feel safe or comfortable to disclose, or even be aware of the harm.
Risk assess as you would in an offline situation. Your staff need to apply a similar level of vigilance to digital settings. Signs of potential abuse include:
User with known risk factors refusing to take phone and/or video calls, or to reply to messages
User afraid to show their face or provide personal information
User only accepting phone or video calls when not at home, or only taking calls when others are not at home
User speaking in hushed tones when receiving phone or video calls
Harm to individual or to property is visible in video call
Individual loitering or visible in the background of all video calls
Change of tone in messages received from user and/or sudden disconnection of contact - suggesting impersonation or a perpetrator’s intervention
Remember that a user’s devices may be compromised or contain spyware. Signs of this happening include:
User tells you a perpetrator or third party has access to information that they shared only with you
User can’t understand how a third party has access to information they have not shared
You should analyse online discussion content in the same way as analysing face-to-face discussion content.
Be aware that users may have suffered online abuse previously. Look out for individuals’ discomfort or anxiety around using digital technologies.
If abuse becomes apparent you may be involved in supporting the user to gather evidence. Where possible you should:
Stop the device from being used, if it is safe and possible to do so. Do not delete any evidence e.g. images, messages.
Ensure the device is placed in a secure place so evidence cannot be destroyed or the user further abused through it.
Write down what has been seen or sent.
Not copy, download or send any evidence to another device. Instead screenshot or print it.
Seek advice from CEOP or the police if you discover evidence of any illegal images e.g. pornograpy involving illegal acts or indecent images of children.
Online safeguarding includes educating users in how to stay safe online. This might involve giving advice on:
privacy and security
safe online conduct
mitigating digital harm
This process starts with educating your staff. Once they feel confident in their own understanding they can advise your users.
They can also help your users stay safe by doing the following:
Support users to review their digital identity. This includes what information exists about them online and what level of visibility they feel comfortable with. Help and educate users on how to check and maintain their devices. Check that spyware is updated, passwords updated and location settings turned off.
Discuss additional security measures such as anonymity (where necessary), turning off GPS tracking, activating wireless router security settings and avoiding posting photos with easily identifiable locations.
Discuss the importance of personal boundaries when using online spaces. Frame this within a conversation about privacy and security.
Explain to users at risk of online abuse how to save and record conversations with perpetrators, and how to document and report abuse.
This list is not exhaustive. Staff should consider the needs and context of your users and their technology habits.
Keep your users informed and updated in a way that facilitates their safety and a mutual understanding of your working relationship. Futures.now’s essential digital skills framework can help you assess your users’ digital competency and online vulnerability.
Tech safety and privacy: a toolkit for survivors (Tech Safety)
Cover your tracks online (Women’s Aid)
Do-it-yourself Online Safety Kit (Chayn)
Digital safety online - video (Get Safe Online)
Supporting people online can be draining, and can impact on your staff’s mental wellbeing. Risks include vicarious trauma and online exhaustion. Because of this teaching and expecting self care from your staff is important.
Consider your organisation and your staff’s experience of using digital technologies. Think about what works best for them, how to help them set boundaries, and how to maintain them when working remotely.
Then implement your organisation’s culture of care into your digital environment. When you do this the culture will trickle through to your users in ways that facilitate a better and safer digital experience for all.