Courtney sits down with friend of the podcast, Sam Wilmouth, to talk about technology-enabled abuse. Their discussion is broad and covers a wide range of issues and protective behaviors. Some of the resources Sam mentions are listed below! 

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative:

Have I Been Pwned:

WVU’s Title IX:

End Technology-Enabled Abuse Online:


Hey, everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm also the director of WellWVU here at West Virginia University. Happy new year. I can't believe it's 2022. And again, we're still in the middle of a pandemic, so lots of good and not so good times there.

But with me today is one of my favorite people at the. I see that is Sam Wilmoth and he is the senior title nine education specialist over in the division of diversity, equity and inclusion and friend of the show. So welcome to Sam. And for those who are not familiar with Sam's work Sam, why don't you sort of introduce yourself and your role at the uterine?

Sure. And you're one of my favorite people at the university, so I feel so affirmed and happy to be paired. Yay. So I do a lot of things for the division of diversity equity and inclusion, and the, the main one, I guess, that I would highlight, cause it's the most likely place that your audience may have seen me is I do a lot of training and educational events.

On topics ranging from addressing abusive relationships all the way to dealing with implicit bias. So, or really any kind of program that's about making this community safer and more fair. You know, DEI is there for it and you may see me there. So that's, that's a good summary of, of a lot of.

Yeah, you're, you're a busy man. So what we're talking about today is something that I know that your division has put a lot of resources into particularly last semester. Cause you contracted with this great organization called end tab. And for those who don't know and tab stands for, and technology enabled abuse online, they're an organization that's out in California, but this that's what they focus is on is ending technology enabled.

Abuse. And so that's what we're going to talk about today. Give everyone sort of a little primer of what it might look like, the types of abuse and how to keep yourself safe online, because there are some steps that you can take to not necessarily ensure your own safety, but can help, can help in a lot of different ways.

So Sam, when you hear that term, Technology enabled abuse. Like what does that mean for our audience? How would you describe it in layman's terms? Yeah. And this is a term that can be difficult to describe succinctly. In fact, one of the things that you'll see is that in the literature about this kind of abuse there's not necessarily even broad agreement about which term to use.

So you'll see. Technology enabled abuse, technology, facilitated, facilitated abuse, digital abuse, online abuse. I mean, everyone is trying to come up with a, a good way of framing and, and succinctly describing this problem. But one of the things that I think we'll run into over and over in this discussion is that technology moves faster.

Not only than the laws they're supposed to. Yeah, but also in our capacity to study its effects. And so very often we end up with a widely adopted technology, some new social media platform or device, for example. And there isn't even a broad agreement yet in the research community about what it's even doing to us.

And that is something that I find consistently unnerving. Before I give a kind of example, definition of this concept. I'd like to do a little disclaimer if that's okay. I want to, I want to say something nice about the internet I want. And I think that's important because people are gonna listen to this conversation and they're going to say, Sam is grumpy and out of touch and he hates everything on the internet and that's not a hundred percent right.

66% rent. I don't Hey, the internet, there's lots about the internet that I think is great. I used to have a shelf in my home growing up that was just filled with these encyclopedias. And anytime you had a question about the world, you just hope it was in that book and yet most of the time it wasn't.

And now if I have just like the most random question, you know What what's a list of Sandra Bullock's highly highest grossing films. Like I can find that it's weird. But great. And if you're a member of a, of a community that has experienced oppression or discrimination if you were you know, the one teenager that you knew of in your small town, Who identified as trans for example.

And you just wanted to find a community of people who could answer questions, who can make you feel accepted. Like you could find that on the internet, and that is amazing and important. And so before I just like dunk endlessly on social media companies or whatever, I just want to acknowledge the positive first.

Okay. So when we're talking about this kind of. Technology. Unfortunately, there is the potential for abuse and you know, there's different definitions that we could use. So the national domestic violence hotline has a definition for what they call digital abuse. That is the use of technology such as texting and social networking to bully, harass stock, or intimidate a partner now.

That's one element of it, but there's a pretty big loophole in there, which is that you don't have to be romantically partnered with someone, unfortunately, to experience abuse at their hands online. And so for instance, you might see some cyber-stalking where the, the. There is an acquaintance of the victim or survivor, but there's not necessarily a romantic relationship.

So none of these definitions or terms are perfect. But one thing I guess I would say is that as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated there are more and more quote, unquote, real world activities that we'll have online or virtual reality kind of analytics. And what that means is that there are, there'll be more and more experiences in our lives where we could experience some kind of You know, pleasure or fun, certainly, but also where an abusive person might be able you know, to engage in some kind of violence for harassment.

Somewhat recently I was listening to a commentator talking about the upcoming metaverse and that commentator was talking about people buying digital furniture. And I was like, that sounds so dumb. But you know, like, 10 years that take, I just gave might not have aged well, you might really enjoy your digital footstool or whatever.

And, and so I think that we need to be aware that as technology occupies more and more of our social lives that the opportunities for abuse unfortunately, could grow. So we need to stay on top of it. Yeah. And we're not just talking about a single type of. Either, there are many different categories that this could fall under.

So maybe let's talk a little bit about, you know, the different types that we might see and where we might see them. Because for example, if we're talking about, you know, sexual abuse or sexual violence, we might be talking about revenge porn, but then if we're talking about stalking, we can also be thinking about.

Those nonconsensual tracking situations where they're using things like air tags or the tiles which aren't, which people might not automatically assume could be used for that purpose, but they definitely can. So what are your, what are your thoughts on all of that? Well, there's definitely a lot of different kinds of abuse involving a lot of different kinds of technology on the air tags.

And the tiles are really good example. These are like small tracking devices that could be, you know, planted in a car or dropped into a purse or a bag. And, and they have all kinds of practical purposes. Maybe you just have a dog that runs away a lot and you want to put one taller. Yeah. But a lot of technologies that have an obvious practical purpose can be appropriated in this way.

Unfortunately one thing I would say about the different types of abuse, just sort of generally is that they often tend to have intersectional angles. That is like, if you're experiencing harassment online you know, it, it could involve things like someone threatening to release embarrassing contents like a nude photo of you or someone impersonating you or, or releasing your, your address or your contact information that's called doxing.

But often what also gets incorporated is other ugly stuff. Racism and sexism and you know, anti LGBTQ plus bias. And so very often when people are targeted for you know, this, this kind of harassment there's not like one way to understand it without reference to the specific life experiences and identities.

The victim. But is it helpful maybe to run through different types of abuse specific? Yeah, I think so. Let's do it. Let's do it. I can, we can do whatever you want. This part's going to be bleak, but I think it's important. Like we need to really understand the different ways in which abusive people can try to you know, engage in controlling and harmful behavior.

Shocking to listeners, but it's also, when we're talking about this, they might see some of their own behavior reflected in that cause who has ever left, you know, a negative comment on someone's picture or a review for a restaurant, or I don't know, just things like that, that we don't often see as necessarily falling into these categories.

Could easily qualify as such. So I think that's something to think about too. Yeah. And, and I think that you know, sometimes what you see is you know, certain kinds of behavior that we might have recognized once or twice in our lungs that, that if it were put together into a broader. Would constitute something like you know, harassment or, or stocking.

And this is actually not new when we talk about evaluating stocking in, in the real world specifically, because often in studies of stocking, if you ask people, you know, have you ever been stopped by and large? They tend to say no, but if you have. Behaviorally specific questions like has a former romantic partner ever followed you around you know, joined the same gym as you left gifts outside your door or notes in the windshield wiper of your car.

You ask all these specific questions and the same people who say, well, I've never been stocked before. We'll say, wow, that's happened. And then. And so it was that. And so they might not necessarily frame their experiences as stalking. But online you know, not only could stocking involve nonconsensual tracking in the real world as through you know, air tags or tiles or, or whatever.

But it could also involve online tracking whether that's. Keystrokes or you know, web history or you know, an account on social media that you think is private kind of a lurker account and, and nonetheless the details of you know, who you are become exposed and it can really also dovetail with other kinds of.

Intrusive behavior. So someone might take control of another person's social media accounts and use that as a way of spreading rumors about them or impersonating them and behaving in embarrassing ways. And these are all different tactics that people engaged in. Stalking. My do you can also see a you know, a connection here to sexual violence and you referenced this already.

What's, what's commonly known as revenge porn. And this is another spot where, because this is a really relatively new kind of abuse in the literature. We're still sort of struggling. What do we call this? And I'm not wild about the name revenge porn for different reasons. One is that it doesn't adequately capture.

The harm being done. The second is that revenge porn is often on the label used on exploitative websites that actually non consensually posts, this, this content. So implicit in the description of revenge porn is, oh, well this is, you know, titillating or sexy. And, and I think it's actually. Violent and abusive.

Right. And so in the literature, you'll see other names for it. You'll see things like non-consensual pornography or image based sexual abuse. And what everyone is trying to struggle with is how do we capture the harm here? Because also implicit in the term revenge porn is, is a kind of theory about motivation, right?

Namely that it's about revenge. And that is of course, one reason that an abusive person could non consensually post a nude or something like that, if someone else but there are other possible motivations, like. Right. Where someone is stealing private images and then putting them threatening to put them on a website as a kind of extortion that doesn't really get captured in you know, the term revenge porn, but one thing I always go back to Or at least haven't in the last year or so is there's this 20, 20 paper by Claire McGlynn and colleagues.

And in the title, there's a description of a survivor of image-based sexual abuse. And the title of the paper is it's torture for the soul, the harms of image based sexual abuse. Can I keep returning to that phrase, torture for this. And it really lands with a thought. But a lot of times people who have been you know, victimized in this way by just like awful abusive folks they have the sense that the harm that was done to Davin is it's permanent.

That you know once a picture that was meant to be private, it's exposed to their friends or family. It is it's really traumatizing in a way that. Sticks with them. And the early research on this unfortunately really backs this up. Now, given how fast, all this changes, I'll try to recommend some organizations from time to time that your listeners can look in on I'm certain.

One of them is an tab that you already referenced. But for image based sexual abuse, there's a group called on the cyber civil rights initiative that I would really recommend that folks take a look. They've been instrumental in developing a kind of legal structure for dealing with image-based sexual abuse at present, I believe 48 states have laws against someone sharing a private image of someone else.

And there is not to my knowledge, a, a federal law against this, which means that if it happens. Over state lines. Things can get complicated really quickly, but there is one that might potentially be in the reauthorization of the violence against women's act, which I believe is now in the Senate.

And that part of the reauthorization of WIOA is called the shield act. That's stopping harmful image, exploitation and limiting distribution. So there is reason to believe that progress is. Being made. But I will say that often survivors of this kind of abuse, at least initially aren't sure where to go.

And we can maybe talk about reporting options and a little bit later discussion. I remember reading an article or maybe it was a new segment about a person who was a victim of this, and it was. One of the first cases, if not the first case that was brought through law enforcement and what the survivor had to do was basically copyright her own body.

And that's how they got the person who did this to her, because it was technically copyright infringement because they used her pictures without technically paying for them, quote unquote, which is just. Sickening. That's sickening to me to feel as if you don't have ownership over your own body. I, I can, I can only imagine how awful that must feel and, and the law that was often you to use, like sort of copyright law and address this problem.

You know, especially six or seven years ago, I would have been the digital millennium copyright act. And often the way we think of this is if you create some kind of creative or artistic product then you, you have rights to how it is used. And so often when these images or videos would be maybe stolen from someone's phone, that was hacked.

Inappropriately shared by a former romantic partner then you know, the, the survivor in those days would, would use the digital millennium copyright act and other laws to try to ask websites to take this down, Hey, this is my selfie. I took it. You don't have the rights to do that now.

That's, as you said, I think. Pretty depressing in a lot of ways. And it's also like that you know, game in, in old arcades that whack-a-mole game, right? It's that like someone would take it down from one website and then it would have here you know, the same image of the same video would appear elsewhere.

And there are actually even take down services that you can hire that will, that will try to stay on top of this kind of thing. But this is why. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure that we really need a shared understanding that if someone who's, who's partnered with you, for example, shares a private image, then you have a huge moral obligation to keep that private.

And if failure to do so is abusing. Yeah. And so, you know, that's I, I think you know, one of the experiences, unfortunately that many survivors of this kind of abuse cap. Yeah. That's for sure. Now what about folks who use technology to financially. They're partners. Like what are your thoughts on that?

There's unfortunately, a lot of you know, opportunity here for people who are willing to do harm and a good way of contextualizing. This is to ask the listener for a second to just like pause the podcast and look at your phone and just count the number of apps, you know? That has some kind of private information associated with them.

It, it, it will be shocking to just how many times you've put in you know, something like an address or credit card number. And that means that there's lots of potential points of failure. That is, there are lots of potential places where a hacker or some other bad acts. I could get ahold of that information and you know, often in engage in things like you know, purchases that you never knew you were making for example.

And so there are a lot of opportunities for financial exploitation and some of them are quite surprising. So for example early adopters of you know, Popular social media platform we'll often get access to really good username. So if I was like the first Sam wellness to get into, I don't know, Instagram or something, and I got that, that highly coveted.

You know, Sam dot wellness handle or whatever, right. That, that sometimes you know, there are groups of hackers who will target those accounts precisely because if they hack in account of that client they can sell it to some other central. Who like really wants that simple username. This is sometimes called like, oh, jeans or anything.

And so what you end up with is a situation where someone could take control of an account and You know, and end up saying, well, you can either buy this back from me or I will sell it to someone else. And so that's another place that, where you, you know, of all the Griff in, in our society, that's not something that I would have imagined very quickly and yet the people engaged in this kind of theft and exploitation.

You know, they may not really have morals, but they're unfortunately by cleverly about right. And I think it's also important to find out it's not just hackers that we're worried about, but it could be like previous romantic partners. If you had linked accounts for something as simple as they talked about this in the end tab, one of the Anton presentations that we watched.

About just like grub hub or, you know, or things like that, where you can order food, find out where people are located. So that kind of is that intersectionality piece that you were mentioning earlier. But just like sharing a bank account or really sharing any kind of like a PayPal account, anything like that can be.

Can it should be approached with caution. Really? Yeah, absolutely. And we never went in to get to a place, especially when we're, when we're working with young people who are, you know, even more online than last time with students. How do you feel about how I can just describe young people as being a separate group from both of us?

I didn't really think that through, but oh, it's okay. Because I like, before we started recording this, I was thinking about. Like only fans and how I learned so much from Washington presentation. Cause I'm just like this naive approaching middle age woman at this point. And I'm like, I can't keep up with everything that happens.

I don't under really stand. Like tick-tock like I don't, I don't get it. I like to watch the videos. I don't want to make them. And I, I have the app on my phone. I have no idea how it works, so I'm okay with not being a young person anymore. I'm glad we could have edited it out. We're good. We're good.

Yeah. W we'll talk about both of those platforms here in, in a moment. But one of the things that I always want to make sure we do. Is give kind of categorical advice, especially to younger folks about like, well, what you need to do is just like not use social media platforms or not used the internet.

That is not only unrealistic. It would be like monstrously unfair. Right? You should have the right. To build an online community of your choosing without being abused or exploited. Having said that, I think that there is room for us to try to be as thoughtful as we can when we are sharing sensitive information like a password for grandpa.

For instance. And so I do think that it's worth you know, thinking about some you know, general security tips, and I know that we'll get to that later in the show. You know, I, I guess I would just ask if you're dating someone and they are demanding you know, or even just like nicely asking over and over again for like all your login information.

That would be something that would just give me a little pause. Yeah, because even before all of these platforms started springing up, it was actually quite normal for even very close you know, romantic partners to nonetheless have parts of their lives that were somewhat private and that's okay.

Right. If one partner has you know, is really into hiking and the other, isn't like, then it's pretty normal for that one person to go hiking while the other one stays at home. Something else. And the idea that that partner, you know, 20 years ago would have been like, if you were going hiking, I need a live stream of what you're doing at all times would have been like ridiculous sounding.

And yet when it comes to all of these platforms, sometimes I worry that we are not quite you know, well-versed in, in a kind of boundary setting you know, conversation about actually, you know, my passwords and you know, I that's a, a general recommendation I would make is that we just think critically before we, we share that now to be clear, if someone can set all kinds of boundaries and still unfortunately be you know, victimized or harmed by someone and it is never the survivor's fault.

But I do think as we're thinking about our own boundaries, what we're comfortable with and what we're not it it's really helpful to ask ourselves a question. Why does my partner want all of these passwords? Yeah. Well, I mean, keeping along that vein, you know, what is your, some of your advice? And I know we don't want to give very specific things of like, well, don't have a grub hub account, cause that's not gonna, that's not gonna eat, you gotta eat and sometimes you don't want to cook, so it's fine.

But how do we keep our relate? How do we have these healthy relationships? How do we draw these boundaries? Like what are some of the ways we can. You know, stay safer, maybe not safe, but safer online. What's what would you recommend? So I recommend a couple of things bearing in mind, the technology obviously changes really fast and some of these recommendations might be out of date very quickly.

Right. At the time this air, I feel longer app. Yes. But you know, as we're thinking about the, the basic dynamics of, you know a healthy relationship that can obviously take a lot of forms, but I think there are some sort of bedroom. Things that we're all looking for. Things like trust with a romantic partner and the ability to set boundaries and to, to talk about the things that are bothering us, right.

And, and those things are evergreen, right? They're not going to. Be irrelevant in, you know, 20, 50 or whatever. So part of what I would start with before we get to technology specific advice is to just ask you to think about what you want you know, from a relationship romantic or otherwise in the quote, unquote real, like try to think of some first principles.

Probably part of what you want is to feel like unconditionally loved by you know, your partners or your friends, probably part of what you want is you know, to feel trusted by those same people and to be able to trust them in turn. This may sound like reading card stuff, but I think it's really helpful for our listeners too, to actually articulate this for themselves and ask themselves how that supplies to technology.

And so if you have a romantic partner who is again demanding all of your login information and passwords, then that to me is something that, that would violate quite a few of the principles of things I would be looking for in a relationship, just sort of. Yeah. And there is some technology specific advice that you know, I'm not a computer scientist.

And I, again, I know this advice is going to change, but I do think a lot of it is, is really. Helpful. The first is that what password strength really, really matters. And you can address this either by using you know, password phrases, right. That are, that are sort of longer phrases that only you could remember.

So like, Well, WVU is the best 20 and 21, you know, exclamation point or something, you know, like you have something longer. I'm not saying that's what you know, Courtney's password is like a phrase of some kind can be helpful. The other way to go. The way that I actually prefer is to use a password like last pass, for example where you store your You know, your, your passwords and they tend to be like more randomly generated, you know numbers and digits.

That would be really hard for anyone else to get to. And that is going to make changing your, your passwords and keeping track of them easier. And then I would think about Two factor authentication, wherever you can use it. You already have to use it for WVU all the time. You got that duo app.

You can use it for other stuff. Okay. Go ahead and, and do that. There are going to be some services that don't. Offer two factor authentication. I think the last time I checked tip talk does not for example but lots of services do. And whenever you can enable that option, I would really strongly, strongly recommend that you do.

So that's another thing that you can do. If you want to check on the security of passwords and logins that you already have, there are some places that you can do that. So there's a pretty illuminating free website called have I been So it's. it's spelled like the word owned.

Right. But with a typo people younger than us will know that immediately. So P w N E D. But that is a publicly available website where that keeps track of data breaches that we know about with you know, different companies. And you can actually put in an email address and see, has my email address been associated with any data breach?

I actually did this recently. And it was, it was depressing for me because there was a there's a little website that. My family uses for a gift exchange. It's called Elster. And I'm not, you know, I'm not trying to like be unkind to upstairs. Don't come at me big elf or, or whatever. But like, I, my data was leaked by this gift exchange thing.

And it was like relatively easy for me to change the passwords. And there was no credit card information associated with it or anything, but there could have been. And so maybe taking over. At those kinds of things would be helpful. Some other you know, cautions I would offer that we've sort of already touched on is that you know, I wouldn't recommend sharing accounts with other people.

In most circumstances, it gets really, really hard to keep track. You know, if, if you would be partnered with someone and then have a breakup, and then you can't remember what do they have the password to? It's a grub hub and to Instagram and to whatever else. And so, you know I just don't really recommend sharing those except in pretty rare circumstances.

And, and I trust your listeners to be able to make that judgment on their own. But those are some general tips that I, I think are going to be useful probably. You know, even five years from which in technology terms is an attorney.

Yes. Well, that's, those are good. Those are all good.