Online Safety Guide
Online abuse is real abuse, and it’s not OK. This is a guide intended to help you stay safe online. However, it is important to remember that the perpetrator is fully responsible for their actions and it might not be possible to protect yourself from this abuse.
If you need more information, or someone to talk to about what you’re going through, contact us via our Instant Messaging Support Service or the 24hr National Freephone Helpline: 1800 341 900
- How to stay private on social media.
- How to block someone on social media.
- What to do if images or videos of you have been shared without your consent.
- What to do if you are concerned you may have been hacked.
- What is spyware and what should you do if you think you’re being spied on.
- Staying safe on email.
- Keeping your phone private.
- Keeping your internet usage private.
- What to do if you see someone being harassed online.
To the left of the Post button, you’ll see a box that shows who will be able to see the content. Click the box to choose an audience from a drop-down menu—the most common are Only Me, Friends, and Public (which includes anyone on or off Facebook). Change to Friends or create a custom list so that only people you trust can see your posts.
Make your profile private so that followers have to be accepted by you before they can see your page. Tap or your profile picture in the bottom right to go to your profile. Tap on the top right, then Settings > Privacy > Account Privacy > Next > Private Account to make your account private.
You can also hide when you’ve last been active by going to Privacy Settings > Activity Status and turning it off.
To ensure nobody is following you that you don’t recognise (or don’t want), go through your list of followers and remove anyone who looks suspicious.
By default, only friends you’ve added on Snapchat can contact you directly or view your Story, but you can adjust your settings to make your account more private.
Go to your profile > Settings > Who Can… and tap an option.
Here you’ll be able to choose who can send you notifications, who can view your Story and who can see your location (this one is especially important - turn off your location for anyone you do not trust). Choose an option, then tap the back button to save your choice.
Facebook and Messenger
You can block specific users by selecting the Blocking option on the left-hand rail of the Settings menu. You can block users outright, meaning the users can’t see your profile or add you as a friend. Also note that there’s a separate blocking option for Facebook Messenger on this settings page as well.
To block someone on Instagram tap their username to go to their profile. Tap the three dots in the top right > Block. People aren't notified when you block them. Note: After you block someone, their likes and comments will be removed from your photos and videos.
On the app swipe to the right to open your Friends screen. Find the person you want to block and tap and hold their name > More > Block. Anyone you’ve blocked will no longer be able to see your stories or snaps, and you can't send them snaps or chats.
Open WhatsApp, tap More Options > Settings > Account > Privacy > Blocked Contacts > Add. Search for or select the contact you want to block.
You can also: Open a chat with the contact > More Options > More > Block > Block or Report and Block, which will report and block the number. Or alternatively open a chat with the contact, then tap the name of the contact > Block > Block.
Messages, calls and status updates sent by a blocked contact won't show up on your phone and will never be delivered to you. Your last seen, online, status updates, and any changes made to your profile photo will no longer be visible to contacts you've blocked. However, note that blocking a contact won't remove them from your contacts list, nor will it remove you from the list on the contact's phone. To delete a contact, you must delete the contact from your phone's address book.
Image-based sexual abuse is when someone shares or posts explicit videos or images of a person without their consent. This could be material which was initially shared consensually through sexting, created together or taken in secret without the knowledge of the person in the photos or videos.
Image based sexual abuse is now a crime in Ireland and you can report it to An Garda Síochána.
What to do if it has happened to you:
- Notify the platform or website immediately by selecting the Report option when clicking the content. If asked for a reason, you can state that this material was uploaded without your consent. Detailed instructions on reporting and removing posts on different social media sites can be found here.
- If you know the person who uploaded the material, you can try contacting them to ask them to take it down.
- Take a screenshot of what was uploaded and take note of the URLs so that you have a record of what has happened.
- If images or videos have been uploaded on a pornography website, flag the content and request its removal. Many websites have a specific function for this in the Content Removal section.
Things to note:
- If it is explicit material, it is likely it goes against the Community Guidelines of many social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook, and they will take it down immediately.
- If you did not consent to the image being shared, this is an offence under the Harassment, Harmful Communications and related Offences Act 2020.
If the material depicts people under 18 years of age it is classed as images of child sexual abuse and the person who posted it has committed a criminal offence. This can be reported to the Gardaí.
If you are being blackmailed, if anyone is seeking money from you, or if you feel harassed, you can go to the Gardaí to make a complaint.
- You have a right of access, rectification and erasure in relation to personally sensitive data under the Data Protection Acts 1988-2003, so you are entitled to request the internet site to take it down under Data Protection laws.
If you have experienced this type of abuse and harassment please contact the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 24 hours a day, seven days a week or speak to someone at your local Garda Station (click here).
What to do if you have received unsolicited explicit images/videos:
- Report immediately to Gardaí if there is any possibility that they may feature minors as this is child abuse imagery.
- The Gardaí may wish to preserve it as evidence but if they do not delete the images.
- In NO circumstances, irrespective of concerns about exploitation of children, should you share any unsolicited images with any third party for any reason, as you may be implicating yourself in a criminal offence.
*Please note that this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a solicitor.
If your account or device is hacked, this means someone has accessed your account without your permission. They may have done this if they knew one of your passwords or if they accessed one of your devices with saved passwords.
How to know if you’ve been hacked
- Your friends receive messages you didn’t send yourself.
- Your details have been changed.
- You get an email from the platform about a sign-in from an unrecognised device.
- You have to login every time you visit the app/website.
What to do if you’ve been hacked
- Keep a record of the communications by taking note of any unusual activity you recognise.
- Visit the ‘help’ or ‘security’ functions of the website and they will help you secure your account.
- Sign out of all devices.
- Check your settings to make sure nothing has been changed e.g. your password or username
- Reset your password.
- Change or confirm your password recovery, for example, changing the security questions used to access your account.
- Let your contacts know you were hacked in case they receive any messages from your account.
What to do to protect yourself against hacking in future
- Use two-factor authentication.
- Use different passwords for different websites.
- Strengthen future passwords.
- If you access your accounts over shared networks or on a shared computer, such as a college or library computer, make sure you sign out of your accounts and log out of the session.
Abusers sometimes use spyware on devices to track and intimidate their victims. If your partner seems to know where you are or what you’re doing at all times this may be a sign you’re being spied on.
What is spyware?
Spyware is software that can be installed on a person’s device without their consent. The person who has installed the spyware can then access the computer remotely from another computer, and can monitor information input into that computer e.g. the user's visited webpages, emails, keystrokes etc.
How can I tell if my device has spyware on it?
It is often not possible to tell if the computer has spyware on it. A person being abused may realise that their abuser is using spyware because the abuser knows information that would be difficult to find out by any other means, or sometimes the device can be running slowly or malfunctioning.
What should I do if I think my device has spyware on it?
- Use a computer at college or at a friend’s house if you suspect there is any possibility of your abuser monitoring your device or laptop at home.
- Do not use your phone or laptop to raise any suspicion or give information to the abuser e.g. researching websites about relationship abuse, sending revealing messages to friends and family.
- Do not look up websites about removing spyware as this will raise suspicion.
- Do not attempt to remove the spyware as this will raise suspicion (also, the spyware could be used in evidence against the abuser in a court case).
More information on spyware can be found here.
If someone has access to your email account they may be able to read your incoming and outgoing mail.
How to protect yourself on email
- Make sure you choose a password that someone will not be able to guess.
- Change your password regularly.
- Some e-mail programmes can automatically save addresses of mails you have sent and received, so check your address book and delete any contact details you fear could raise suspicions.
- Any email you have previously sent will be stored in sent Items. Go to sent items and delete emails you don't want a person to see.
- If you started an email but didn't finish it, it might be in your drafts folder. Go to the draft folder to delete it.
- If you reply to any email, the original message will probably be in the body of the message - delete the email if you don’t want anyone to see your original message.
- When you delete an item in any email program it does not really delete the item - it moves the item to a folder called Deleted Items. You have to delete the items in Deleted Items to remove them completely.
- If there's a risk that your abuser may know how to access your emails, it's a good idea to set up a new email account. Use a provider like Gmail for an account you can access from anywhere, and use a name that is not recognisable as you. Keep this email secret.
If someone sends you threatening or harassing emails make sure you print and save them. Although you may be tempted to delete them, especially if they are distressing, they are evidence and may help you prove that a criminal offence has been committed.
If you suspect or know your phone usage is being monitored, there are a number of steps you may be able to take to cover your tracks.
- Always remember to delete text messages you have sent or received - unless they are messages sent by an abuser. If you receive threatening or harassing text messages, do not reply to them and keep them as they are evidence. The Gardaí can have these messages downloaded and printed.
- Always remember to check the call register on your phone and delete any numbers that could raise suspicions.
- We would recommend that you avoid adding the Women's Aid helpline to your phone in case it is discovered by an abuser. However, if you feel you need to store the number add the number as a friend's contact number. That way, if it does show up on your call history it comes up as a call to a friend.
- You can block numbers on iPhones and Android phones by selecting a contact (the number usually has to be saved as a contact) and clicking Block.
An abuser may be using spyware to track your internet use or they may be accessing your device to look at your browsing history. This may alert them if you have looked at websites with information on abuse in relationships, or contact information for the Gardaí. It’s important to keep this information private.
You can delete your history in various different browsers by going to Settings > Privacy or Security and selecting options to Clear History or Remove Cookies and Cache Data. You can also remove history or cookies from specific sites (like TooIntoYou.ie). Click here for a detailed description of deleting history on different browsers.
You can also browse in Incognito mode so that your visit to any website is not saved in your browser history.
More details on browsing incognito on different browsers can be found here.
Online harassment can include:
- Sending, sharing, or posting hurtful or abusive messages.
- Posting embarrassing videos or pictures of someone (without their consent).
- Tagging someone inappropriately in a photo/video.
- Spreading rumours online.
- Threatening someone online.
What to do when you see online harassment
- Say something to the person who is being harassed - send them a message and ask if they are OK.
- Report it to the online platform by clicking Report. If the platform decides behaviour/comments are against their community guidelines they can take action on it. This could mean sending the user a warning, deleting the post or comment, suspending their account, or removing their account entirely. Reporting is anonymous, so the person won’t know that you’ve reported them.
- If you think the person is at risk of serious harm, for example, if a person is posting threats to commit violence, tell the person being threatened and report to the Gardaí immediately.
- Help collect evidence by screenshotting any harmful posts or comments. This can be used to prove that harassment was taking place.