Digital safety guide for LGBTQ+ activists in Africa

In many African countries, the rise in LGBTQ+ intolerance is accelerating the digital repression of activists fighting for human rights. Extreme and dangerous laws that criminalize LGBTQ+ identity and online expression are undermining people’s fundamental rights and putting their well-being and safety at risk. We created this guide to help LGBTQ+ activists in Africa stay safe. It is designed to help you identify what you might have to protect in your digital world. You may find that one or more of the personas below has characteristics or experiences you share, or describes threats you face. For each persona and threat scenario, our Digital Security Helpline has outlined digital safety tips and strategies that may be relevant to your life and work.

We hope you find this guide useful as a gateway for mapping out and mitigating the digital threats to your safety. In addition to offering tips based on the threats you may face, we have compiled resources to help you learn more about best practices, as well as information about our #ProtectLGBTQ+DigitalRights campaign.

Remember: every threat scenario is unique

If you need direct, tailored emergency assistance, contact our Digital Security Helpline, a 24/7 resource for activists, independent media, and civil society organizations. 

If you need legal and emergency local support, you can reach out to:

PERSONAS AND THREAT SCENARIOS

yaa – spyware, arrests

Yaa Persona Africa Digital Safety Tips

Yaa (she/her) is a youth outreach coordinator at an NGO in Accra, Ghana who focuses on empowering and supporting LGBTQ+ youth in marginalized communities. Through outreach programs, workshops, and mentorship initiatives, she provides a safe space for young people to express themselves, access resources, and build community. Because of her work, she and her colleagues are worried about authorities using spyware to monitor their outreach activities, leading to arrests and the confiscation of their devices.


To mitigate these risks, Yaa and her colleagues can:

  • Keep all devices up to date. Updates usually patch the security vulnerabilities that attackers use to deliver surveillance malware.
  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links or attachments. This can prevent the automatic delivery of malware on devices, which could then be used to monitor people’s activities, online and offline.
  • As a high-risk individual, Yaa can enable Lockdown Mode on her iPhone, which restricts some apps and phone features to prevent attackers from using them to deliver spyware.
  • Lock all devices using a PIN, password, or fingerprint, and enable full disk encryption on both laptops and mobile phones, to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Use encrypted messaging apps such as Signal or WhatsApp, both of which have end-to-end encryption to communicate securely. 
  • Use VPNs to encrypt internet traffic and hide online activities from potential surveillance. 
  • Enable remote wipe on their devices just in case they land in the wrong hands. Be careful to use this feature only if it does not increase risk and cause more harm (we do not generally advise wiping after an arrest, for example).
  • Create an emergency response plan in case of an arrest, including identifying legal and emergency contacts she and her colleagues can reach out to.

aisha – account hacking

Aisha (she/her) is an LGBTQ+ activist based in Kampala, Uganda. She often uses her social media channels to advocate for the rights of the community and safely share the stories of community members. Recently, she has been receiving private messages from strangers with suspicious links, which she suspects are phishing attempts to steal her account passwords.


To mitigate these risks, she can:

  • Use strong and unique passwords that cannot be easily guessed or compromised. 
  • Store these passwords securely by using a password manager such as KeepassXC or 1Password.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security on all accounts. Use an authenticator app and avoid SMS (text)-based MFA. 
  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links. These could be malicious attempts to steal sensitive information such as passwords that can be used to take over an account.
  • Review social media privacy settings. Some platforms will reveal more information than necessary. Share only what is safe for others to see.
  • Regularly review the activity logs or account history for  online accounts. Look for any suspicious login attempts or unrecognized activity, and if there is any unauthorized access, take immediate action, such as changing the password.

kariuki – entrapment, blackmail

Kariuki Persona Africa Digital Safety Tips

Kariuki (they/them) lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and identifies as a queer individual. Kariuki has not disclosed this aspect of their identity to their friends and family. They mainly use social media platforms and dating websites to connect with fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. Kariuki frequently engages in conversations on Grindr, their preferred dating platform. However, they want to safeguard their identity to prevent potential entrapment and blackmail, something one of their acquaintances recently experienced.


To mitigate these risks, Kariuki can:

  • Avoid using personally identifying information such as their full name, address, and phone number on the profile.
  • Avoid posting pictures with identifiable features such as tattoos, badges, and surroundings. Blur any identifiable feature before sharing a picture. 
  • Use apps to clear metadata from the photos they are sharing. Photos usually contain metadata information such as date, time, and location of the photo, which can be used to track you.
  • When ready to physically meet, choose safe locations where they can ensure their safety. Never share their home address unless they truly trust someone. 
  • Protect their accounts with a strong password, use a password manager, and enable multi-factor authentication. Consider using biometrics for required authentication for access to their devices or accounts.
  • Enable remote wipe on their device just in case it lands in the wrong hands. Be careful only to use this feature if it does not increase risk and cause more harm (we do not generally advise wiping a device after an arrest, for example). 
  • Be cautious if someone they’ve just met on a dating app requests or pressures them to send explicit photos. This could be a red flag for potential blackmail or exploitation.
  • Report suspicious activity. Most dating apps have reporting features that allow people to flag suspicious or abusive behavior.

kwame – online harassment

Kwame (he/him) openly identifies as bisexual and is a passionate human rights advocate residing in Cape Coast, Ghana. Due to his advocacy, Kwame regularly experiences online harassment and mistreatment from individuals who oppose LGBTQ+ rights. He receives hateful messages, derogatory comments, and threats on social media platforms, often targeting his sexual orientation and activism. This online harassment takes a toll on Kwame’s mental health and well-being.


To mitigate these risks, Kwame can:

  • Regularly review the privacy settings on his social media accounts and other online platforms. Adjust these settings to control who can see his posts, who can send him messages, and who can find him through search.
  • Be cautious about accepting friend requests or connections from people he doesn’t know personally, especially if they have no mutual connections or if their profiles seem suspicious.
  • Avoid sharing sensitive personal information, such as his exact location or contact details, publicly on social media or other online platforms.
  • Use blocking and reporting tools. If he experiences harassment or abuse, block the harasser and report their behavior to the platform’s administrators.
  • Document harassment. Keep records of any harassing messages, comments, or interactions as evidence, which may be useful if he needs to report the harassment to authorities or platform administrators.
  • Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support organizations. Talking to others can provide emotional support and help him navigate the situation.
  • If online harassment is impacting his mental health or sense of safety, consider seeking support from a mental health professional or counselor.

YOUR TURN

  • What kind of work do you do?
  • Who do you work with?
  • Would anyone want to stop you in your activities? If so, who?
  • Does anyone want to know what you do? If so, who?
  • What risks do you face professionally and personally?
  • Have you had any reasons to worry about your online activities or your devices?

What security measures can you adopt based on the tips in this guide to reduce the threats you face?

DIGITAL SAFETY RESOURCES

Here are resources to address risks that LGBTQ+ activists should be on the lookout for. Please feel free to share them widely within your networks.

Stay safer on dating apps:

Protect your identity and privacy online:

Stay safer if you or someone you know are arrested:

CivicCERT: Digital first aid kit (see section on “someone I know has been arrested” — but note that we don’t generally advise remote wiping after an arrest since it may make law enforcement suspicious).

Learn the basics of surveillance and protect your communications:

Check to see if your email address has been compromised:

Learn how to spot phishing and social engineering attacks: 

Join the #ProtectLGBTQ+DigitalRights campaign 

Despite the risks to human rights, authorities in countries like Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda continue to persecute LGBTQ+ people, call for bans on LGBTQ+ content, incite violence, and introduce dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ laws and policies.
Access Now and our partners are closely monitoring and pushing back against attacks on LGBTQ+ people’s human rights. Learn more about our efforts and join our call: Protect LGBTQ+ rights: online, offline, everywhere.