Understanding the impact
It can be hard to really understand the danger that LGBTQ+ people face online, even for allies. As of 2021, there are 71 countries around the world that have criminalized homosexuality, according to Statista. In the UK, Stonewall reports that 1 in 5 LGBT people have experienced hate crimes in the past 12 months.
LGBTQ+ youth are roughly twice as likely to face cyberbullying as their heterosexual peers, and adults must navigate online intolerance every day as well. Cyberbullying can take a deep psychological toll on anyone, but for LGBTQ+ people, the risks often cross over into the physical world as well. Just a few examples:
- Three men in Texas were recently convicted of using Grindr, a popular dating app for gay men, to rob and physically assault several gay men over the course of a week;
- One gay man in Louisiana was left in a coma and fighting for his life after he was targeted by a homophobic assailant using Grindr;
- Chinese LGBT online spaces on WeChat are rapidly being shut down;
LGBTQ+ risks online
Different subgroups of the LGBTQ+ community may face unique challenges, but many are shared in common with victims anywhere along the gender or sexuality spectra.
Trolling / abuse
It can be easy to dismiss the impact of constant online abuse if you’ve never been on the receiving end. However, LGBTQ+ people can encounter trolling and hateful messages every day, whether directed at them personally or broadcast to the public. Unfortunately, your options here will often depend on the platform itself. Consider this:
- Report: If the platform you’re using supports this function, you can report hateful or hurtful messages. Even if this doesn’t block the user or remove their message, it may help form a record of abusive behavior that admins may respond to after repeat offenses;
- Vote with your feet: We use platforms that we enjoy and that appreciate our patronage. If the platform harbors hateful and disruptive users, consider whether it’s worth moving to a more welcoming platform. If it is, then it might be worth encouraging other members of the LGBTQ+ community to move there as well.
Doxxing is the act of attacking someone by publishing private information about them. This can be potentially catastrophic for LGBTQ+ people. The risks might include:
- Forcible outing: Coming out is a difficult and sensitive moment for many people, and they may never want to come out to absolutely everyone they know. Doxxing can rob LGBTQ+ people of their right to decide if/when/how to come out. Depending on their circumstances, it can even lead to harassment and deeply traumatic or life-threatening scenarios;
- Deadnaming: Every trans person chooses how much they want to retain of the gender identity they were assigned at birth. For some, even mentioning the (dead)name they were given at birth can be painful. A doxxing attack can reveal everything about a trans person’s identity before they transitioned, potentially leading to personal crisis, harassment, or even violence.
Because doxxing can come from many different directions, a broad approach is required to prevent it. Generally, the key is to learn to manage and control your data online. Some specific steps include:
- Adjust your social media settings: Social media can reveal a lot about you. With the wrong settings, even complete strangers can find little bits of information to latch onto and connect. Don’t give them a chance by keeping your social media private;
- Encrypt your traffic: Encryption reduces your data vulnerability, making it harder for malicious actors to access your data. In addition to protection against criminals, encryption protects you from targeted attacks attempting to intercept and reveal your data. One of the most powerful tools to encrypt your traffic is a VPN.
- Don’t overshare: Develop a habit of evaluating how much information you’re giving away about yourself before you share something. What are you exposing about yourself? Do you really need to? Remember, the data doesn’t have to directly reveal anything about your gender identity or preference. If a harasser is targeting you, they may piece data together to try to build a picture of who you are.
Catfishers can target victims of any orientation or gender, but members of the LGBTQ+ community need to be extra careful. We began this article by mentioning acts of violence that began with catfishing, but that’s not all that can happen. Catfishing could easily lead to doxxing or other attacks as well. Here are some tips to stay safe:
- Stay street-smart: If you’re meeting someone you met online face-to-face, your first meeting needs to be in a public place with other people around. This will give you an opportunity to communicate in a safe environment and determine whether they’re really who they say they are.
- Take it slow: Private photos or information can be used to doxx you, blackmail you, or harass you in other ways. It’s OK to take it slow. Never share confidential or potentially compromising information, but if you feel you must, don’t do so until you’ve met them in person and think you can trust them.
Improve your online privacy and security
LGBTQ+ people deserve to feel safe and included online. Cybersecurity know-how and tools can empower them, however, when intolerance and ignorance infringe upon their rights. Here are some additional tips for staying secure and private online:
- Take data breaches seriously: If a site, app or service you use has been breached, look out for tips on what to do. For starters, consider changing your passwords, contacting your bank if financial data is involved, and looking out for scam attempts leveraging the data revealed in the breach;
- Don’t recycle passwords: This one’s simple. If you recycle passwords and your password is discovered in any way, it can then be used to unlock your entire online life. Keep your passwords diversified to stay safe. A password manager like NordPass can make this way easier.
- Don’t overshare: From social media and emails to cloud storage, always be aware of what data you’re putting out there. Cut down on things that are not necessary and that could be used to harm or harass you.
- Use security tools: Your browser. Your messaging app. Your email. There are more secure options available for all of these tools – it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you. You can even encrypt your internet connection using a VPN. NordVPN’s advanced Threat Protection feature is the next step in your digital security. It neutralizes cyber threats before they can do any real damage to your device. It helps you identify malware-ridden files, stops you from landing on malicious websites, and blocks trackers and intrusive ads on the spot.