Defense Against The Dark Arts

Protecting Yourself and Others From Harassment Online


This talk includes discussion of organized campaigns of stalking, harassment, and abuse, as well as discussions of violence against women and threats of violence against women.

If at any time during this talk you’re feeling uncomfortable, please don’t hesitate to leave.

Self-care is important.

Hi, I'm Annalee


  • Co-Editor of The Bias Blog
  • Former member of the Ada Initiative's advisory board
  • Certified Internet Loudmouth


  • @leeflower on Twitter


Threats, harassment, or abuse so severe or pervasive that it affects your ability or willingness to interact online.


We'll be talking about:

  • Strategies to protect yourself
  • Strategies to help others

We're Not Covering:

Community Management

We're focusing on individual actors, rather than community leaders.

How Not To Wear That Dress

Marginalized people should not have to be civil, quiet, or compliant just to stay safe online. More importantly, it doesn't help. Trolls will attack us no matter how we behave. They'll even attack bots with names that read as feminine and/or non-white.

Garden-Variety Trolls

The mosquitoes of the troll world, they attempt to silence marginalized people with a tiring series of "small" annoyances.

  • Slurs, name-calling
  • Sexual images or comments, demands for nudes
  • Sliding into your twitter mentions demanding a 'debate'
  • Pretty much every comment on Youtube


Garden-Variety Trolls

  • The BLOCK button is your patronus
  • Your time is valuable. These people are wasting it on purpose.
  • It is not intellectually dishonest to refuse to engage with harassers.
  • Like street harassment, this fly-by harassment can escalate quickly.


Prof. McGonagall has no time for nonsense

Garden-Variety Trolls

Helping Friends:


  • engage without the target's consent
  • include the target in replies



  • offer to screencap/document
  • offer to report for harassment
  • send cute pictures.

Prof. McGonagall has no time for nonsense

Harassment Campaigns

Harassment Campaigns

Unlike fly-by trolls or attacks of opportunity, harassment campaigns are sustained attacks against a particular person.

  • Carried out by a person or a group
  • Lasts for days, weeks, or years
  • Can have a significant impact on the victim's life, affecting their physical safety, mental health, housing, family, and career

Protecting Yourself

Securing your accounts

Personal Security

Mental Health First Aid

Securing Your Accounts

Strong, unique passwords and Two-Factor Authentication are the best way to secure your accounts. These will stop most attacks.

Password Vaults

  • 1password
  • Lastpass
  • Keepass

Securing Your Accounts

Secure Your Phone Number

Call your phone company and attach a verbal PIN or passphrase to your account. Do not use your SSN or other ID numbers.

Attackers have learned to call phone companies, impersonate their victims, and get their victims' phone numbers redirected to their phones--thus gaining access to two-factor authentication text messages they can use to take over your accounts.

Securing Your Accounts

Secure Your Phone and Computer

Apply security updates for all your electronic devices in a timely fashion.

If possible, select a phone that gets security updates directly from Apple or Google, rather than buying a phone whose OS your mobile carrier has modified. Mobile carriers often fail to patch their phones, leaving them open to known security vulnerabilities.

Securing Your Accounts

Be Careful With Security Questions

Security questions are bad security, because they're often easy to guess or cross-reference.

When security questions are mandatory, generate passwords for them and store them in your password vault.

Alternately, come up with false answers that attackers won't be able to google the answer to, but which you will still be able to remember. 

Personal Security

  • Turn off geotagging on your phone camera and social media accounts.
  • Use WhoIs masking services to obscure your address in website domain registrations
  • Search for yourself on people-finding sites such as Spokeo and follow the directions to remove your listings from these sites (services like Deleteme can monitor these sites for you).

Personal Security

  • Warn your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers not to give out any information about you.
  • Warn your neighbors or building manager not to accept unexpected packages for you, or buzz strangers in for you.
  • Ask neighbors to be on the lookout for strangers taking an interest in your house or apartment.
  • Secure your original documents, such as your birth certificate and passport.
  • Make an offline backup of all important files and keep it somewhere safe.

Mental Health First Aid

Threats, harassment, and abuse cause a stress reaction. A sustained campaign of harassment can:

  • Disrupt your appetite
  • Make it difficult for you to sleep or concentrate
  • Make you depressed, irritable, or anxious
  • Exacerbate existing mental health conditions
  • Cause Acute Stress Disorder and/or PTSD

Mental Health First Aid


Ask trusted friends to monitor the harassment for you and inform you if there's any escalation you need to be aware of.

"Eat, Drink, and Be Merry:" get enough food, stay hydrated, and do things that make you happy.

Be aware of your stress levels and treat yourself gently.

Do nice things for yourself and let others do nice things for you.

Helping Others

What Not To Do

  • Continue a conversation between a troll and harassment target after the target has stopped responding
  • Pick fights on a target's behalf without their consent
  • Commend victims of harassment for being ‘brave’
  • Minimize their feelings ("it's just the internet" "they're not serious")

Helping Others

Practical Help

  • Field good-faith but off-topic intro-level questions from people who share your privilege.
  • Enforce community norms (call out gross behavior, report it to moderators)
  • Take screencaps of harassing communications and tell targets you have copies if they need them
  • Donate money to those experiencing severe harassment and/or amplify calls for donations

Helping Others

Practical Help

  • Offer to monitor friends' mentions or triage their email inboxes for them
  • Offer to help friends check people-finding sites and remove their listings
  • Send pictures of cute animals
  • Offer to take your friends out for a meal or coffee
  • Offer to host them, babysit their kids, or board their pets

Links & Resources


Defense Against The Dark Arts

By Annalee Flower Horne

Defense Against The Dark Arts

Online harassment is a serious threat. Come learn practical strategies for how to defend yourself and others from harassment and abuse. We'll cover mental health first aid, digital and physical security, and steps you can take to help out friends who are experiencing harassment without escalating the situation.

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