Safety Mode Settings

Users should be able to create and save multiple, distinct configurations of privacy and security settings into “safety modes,” which they can then quickly and easily activate with one click as needed.

How does this mitigate hate?

By making it easier for users to fine-tune their privacy and security settings, platforms can help users protect themselves from impersonation, doxing, hacking, and other abusive tactics predicated on accessing or exposing private information. For users facing cyber mobs or coordinated harassment campaigns, it is especially critical to increase privacy until the storm has passed. Tightening privacy and security, however, can have real tradeoffs for visibility and reach. It can also be difficult to adjust settings in the midst of an influx of abuse. For these reasons, users need to be able to save privacy and security settings into distinct safety modes and switch quickly and easily between modes.


When to use it?

When a user is facing—or anticipates—an influx of harassment, they need to be able to quickly and easily boost their privacy with one click, while also being able to fine-tune visibility and reach.

How does it work?

Platforms have increasingly created granular and complex privacy and security settings. Experiencing online abuse can be traumatic and make it difficult to navigate granular settings in real time. In response, some platforms have created a binary, one-click option enabling users to go private (such as Twitter’s “Protect my tweets” and Instagram’s “Private account”). Those privacy modes represent significant steps in the right direction, but they are binary and therefore do not allow for any fine-tuning of visibility and reach.

Enable users to create and save different configurations of privacy and security settings

Allow users to choose between different safety modes and easily activate or deactivate them with one click

Feature safety modes prominently, instead of burying them in separate help centers, so users can quickly and easily access them when facing online abuse; this could be achieved via pop-up notifications within the primary user interface and involve education as well as awareness.


The boundaries between the personal and professional use of social media accounts are often blurred. The importance of engaging with an audience and building a brand encourages the conflation of the professional with the personal. Users can preempt exposure to hateful and abusive content by fine-tuning their privacy and security settings to find the right balance between safety, visibility and reach.


On Instagram, when a user enables “private account,” only their followers can view what they share, including photos or videos. This is an example of the binary private account and is a step in the right direction but is not quite granular enough to meet the needs of many users. (screenshot taken October 2021)

On Twitter, when a user enables Protect my Tweets, their Tweets are only visible and searchable to their followers. The user will receive a request when new people want to follow them, which they can approve or deny. Replies the user sends to an account that isn’t following them will not be seen by that account, as only their followers will be able to view their Tweets. (screenshot taken May 2022)

On Tik Tok, when a user enables the private account feature, they can vet which followers are able to view their videos, LIVE videos, bio, and likes, as well as their following and followers lists. When the user toggles from one mode to the other they are shown information about what will happen to their account in the new mode. (screenshots taken May 2022)


Brems, Cara et al., “Personal Branding on Twitter How Employed and Freelance Journalists Stage Themselves on Social Media,” Digital Journalism 5, no. 4 (May 3, 2016),

Keys, Matthew. “A brief history of Facebook’s ever-changing privacy settings,” Medium, March 21, 2018. Accessed at:

Vilk, V., Vialle E., & Bailey, M. No Excuse for Abuse: What Social Media Companies Can Do Now to Combat Online Harassment and Empower Users., PEN America (2021). Accessed at:


Written by PEN America