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Encrypt Your Nudes

The zine for online self-defence and protecting your nudes

Encrypt Your Nudes, from the feminist collective Tech Witches, prioritises human needs over how technology works to bring power back to people who are alienated online

You’re reading this right now on your phone or perhaps your laptop, and it’s very likely you’ve been led here from a social network of some sort, checking it has become an integrated part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth (hopefully). For many of us, home is where the Wi-Fi is. Although our usage of the world wide web might generally be innocuous, it’s possible there are people out there – not just the government or large corporations – that want to bring us down for being outspoken or even associated with certain politics or ideas. When her friend was targeted by Men's Rights Activists for organising a public demonstration against them, Liane Decary-Chen started exploring how to protect herself and the online spaces she frequents, later compiling these into a sharable pdf zine entitled Encrypt Your Nudes. The zine is now being developed into a workshop with an aim Decary-Chen describes as “cybersecurity 101 for marginalised people that’s accessible and complete.” 

Ideas about cybersecurity are so often transmitted to us from tech “experts” who work at large corporations – generally white cis males – who brag about eschewing social media and how encrypted their information is. Since expanding into a workshop, many people have wanted to get involved, but Decary-Chen’s anti-oppressive approach to cybersecurity insists for this ethos to be reflected in those she invites to collaborate. “I've very intentionally tried to keep the organising group a group that's mainly people of colour, marginalised folks, gender queer people, and queer people. We really want to create a space that's anti-experts,” she explains. The organising group refers to themselves as Tech Witches, an excellent moniker that evokes the sharing of knowledge and power amongst people who are often alienated from physical or virtual spaces.

“Withdrawing from those spaces because they're unsafe is not a possibility and should be the absolute last resort because marginalised folks have been pushed out of spaces historically, everywhere all the time”

Physical/virtual, online/offline – there’s an undeniable tension between the public and private in conceptualising how we interact with the Internet. On one level, certain online spaces we frequent can feel very tight-knit and safe. On another, many of these spaces are found on platforms created by corporations whose interests include knowing as much as they can about us as users. More often than not, it seems beneficial to put ourselves out there online, especially those of us who work in creative industries. For Decary-Chen, reconciling this tension between the public and the private “is being really explicit about the fact that we're not going to abandon our spaces and we're not going to stop creating our spaces”.

Instead of giving up and deactivating her Facebook account, or trying to create an alternative social network, Decary-Chen has an interest in “subverting current platforms and gaining control in ways that are unexpected”. Protestors against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US made attempts to subvert Facebook – people were encouraged to copy and paste a status about Standing Rock rather than sharing it, and send a video of a Standing Rock activist via Messenger after it had been removed by Facebook. Disruptions also happen in smaller ways – using aliases and genders we don’t normally identify with, which falsifies the information sold to advertisers by the platforms we use.

“When you're designing something, even though it seems neutral, it's still political no matter what”

While some people as of late have been deactivating or threatening to deactivate their social media accounts, Decary-Chen is more interested in sticking around: “Withdrawing from those spaces because they're unsafe is not a possibility and should be the absolute last resort because marginalised folks have been pushed out of spaces historically, everywhere all the time. And there's finally a space that has the potential to be a democratic space – where everybody can have their little corner where they do their own thing.”

Although Decary-Chen and her Tech Witches have tried out other platforms for research and additionally for practical organising purposes, they won’t abandon the ubiquitous social network. “I think it's really important to stay on Facebook because that's how you're going to reach the people who know the least about these things. And the people who know the least about these things are the people who might need it the most.”

Tech Witches seek to empower people to be less intimidated by technology by making cybersecurity accessible. “We're prioritising people's perspectives and people's needs. Prioritising humans and people's needs over how technology works.” In speaking to Decary-Chen, there’s an overwhelming sense of optimism in her approach, in stark contrast to the doomsday vibes that seem to be emanating from every corner. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of fighting against adversity, even more so when it seems the platforms we use to organise together are only concerned with being profitable, regardless of the human cost involved.

The key here is thinking about intent – your intentions being on the Internet, your intentions in each tweet you send or photo you post on Instagram, as well the intentions of those who design the platforms we use. “When you're designing something, even though it seems neutral, it's still political no matter what,” she explains, “The important thing is to be aware of what risks you're taking on what platform. To decide consciously and do things intentionally.” 

Encrypt Your Nudes is full of useful tips to improve your cybersecurity online, but Decary-Chen suggested two things you can do right away. When you emerge from your holiday haze, consider Googling yourself (scary, I know), and changing your passwords to something a little more evolved than the one you used for your first email account. Actively increasing our own awareness about what information is readily available about us online is part of good Internet hygiene to defend against people that want to bring us down. When 2017 comes around, we can all be better prepared for whatever is thrown our way with the help of Encrypt Your Nudes.

Check out the full pdf of Encrypt Your Nudes here