One of the best things about digital journalism is that it offers a wider range of viewpoints than the traditional press. However, there will always be someone who disagrees with you, and there are some countries where even the government is openly hostile to journalists.
This is why it’s more important than ever to protect yourself (and your sources) online. Below, we’ll cover a few ways to improve your digital privacy and remain anonymous as a blogger or member of the press.
Communicate privately with your sources
With more than a billion people active on Facebook alone, it’s easier than ever to reach out to people over social media. In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with this, but what if your source lives in a country where internet access is monitored? In situations like these, you could actively be putting your source at risk by talking about certain topics, even if they never reply.
Instead, it’s better to use encrypted messaging services like Signal, WhatsApp, or Telegram. These scramble the contents of your message, meaning that anyone looking in from the outside (hackers or the government, for instance) will only see a jumble of meaningless data. You can also enable encryption on most major email platforms or use a burner email, if you’d prefer.
You will have to make initial contact over another service, but as long as you include your phone number, the other person will be able to reply privately, without fear of governmental reprisal.
Keep your online activities safe from prying eyes
You might not know this, but nothing you do online is truly anonymous. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) logs all sorts of information including which sites you visit, what time you do so, and how much data you transfer, all of which can be used to track your activities.
Just as the messaging services above encrypt your conversations, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can encrypt internet traffic from every app on your device. The best VPNs even let you connect to servers in other countries so that you can access sites and services that might not be available where you live. This is particularly useful for journalists, since you’ll be able to communicate and share files on platforms like Twitter and OneDrive, both of which are often blocked in countries with strict online censorship.
Stop your own devices from spying on you
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to leave your phone at home whenever you go out. The easiest way to stop yourself from being tracked is to turn off your device’s location services, put it in flight mode, or turn it off completely. While you’re at it, we’d recommend making sure your camera doesn’t save GPS data whenever you take a photo, since this could be used to track you down.
We actually give out quite a bit of information just by going about our business. Your phone’s GPS, for instance, keeps a note of everywhere you go, and your Fitbit can tell how you’re feeling at any given moment, data which was recently used to arrest a suspect in a murder case.
Lock down your social media accounts
How many friends do you have on social media? Hundreds? Thousands? And how many of them do you know personally? Remember: anything you share can be cross-referenced with publicly available databases (marriage registries, law enforcement databases, and so on) to find out more about you.
If you haven’t already, we’d recommend making your accounts private or failing that, restricting access to any posts with personally identifiable information in them. Facebook might not be the best at protecting its users’ privacy but it does at least allow you to view your own page as though you were a stranger, which is an excellent way to evaluate your profile and see just how much sensitive data you’re sharing.
Finally, set up two-factor authentication whenever possible. This is a little less convenient since you’ll have to enter a code (texted or emailed to you) whenever you log in, but it prevents someone from simply guessing your email password and gaining access to every account you have.
As an online journalist or blogger, you’re responsible for your own safety. Luckily, there are several small changes you can make for free that will greatly enhance your digital privacy. By following the steps above, you not only reduce the chance of your personal information being leaked, you also help keep your sources safe, which should be the top priority of any journalist, anywhere in the world.