Stop Telling People To Post About Protests On Social Media

screenshot of rally’s facebook event

Today at the Albuquerque Families Belong Together rally, one of the speakers encouraged the crowd to post selfies, tweet with the event hashtags, and check into the event at Facebook. That’s a terrible thing to tell a crowd. Here’s why.

From the beginning of Facebook, police have been using it against citizens — from campus police using it to bust parties to monitoring activists involved with protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. That’s just in the United States — in both Syria and Turkey, police may have used activists’ social media to find dissenters; activists working against oppressive regimes across the globe have had reasons to fear their governments using their social media data against them.

In the United States, we have the Department of Homeland Security already monitoring the social media profiles of immigrants, including naturalized citizens. ICE spent $100 million on monitoring visitors to the US. Hundreds of local police departments use social media surveillance software.

As America moves further into fascism, activists have plenty to fear from the police. They are able to murder Black people with impunity and many of the activists who draw attention to that fact seem to wind up dead. Many of the J20 protesters are still in custody, even if the prosecution has managed to lose every case against them that has gone to trial.

It’s not just the cops, either. Protesters also are in danger of being targeted by right-wing extremists who organize online. This tactic is nearly as old as the web; it has been used against doctors who perform abortions, nearly every female voter in Turkey, a 12 year old who made a video in support of vaccines, anti-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville and thousands of others. Doxxing, harassment and threats were the main tactics of GamerGate; they also were known for swatting their ideological opponents, a technique which other people have used more recently to commit murder by cop.

Right-wing groups continue to use the GamerGate playbook. Right-wingers track activists on keywiki. Nazis gather on 4chan’s /pol/ board to post memes and dox; when their child pornography gets them booted they move to 8chan. They organize harassment on Daily Stormer, in Discord channels and on reddit, among other places; when one site bans them or shuts down, they move to another.

All of these sites feed into each other; when I got targeted by /pol/ last week for making anti-fascist tweets, they immediately started digging through the information kiwifarms gathered spending several years stalking me, transferring information from a network of lonely trolls to one of angry Nazis. Most of these sites are indexed by Google, so it’s easy for groups that share a common target to share information — they just have to look it up.

The cops, the trolls and the Nazis¹ have one major thing in common: they pick marginalized targets. People in groups that are commonly targeted by fascists — including Black people, transgender people, and immigrants — should be particularly careful about posting information about their participation in protests.

In addition to protecting themselves, everyone needs to be careful about posting photos that can be used to identify and target protesters and activists; ask permission before you take people’s photos and offer to crop out or obscure faces if necessary. You don’t want the people in the background of the selfie you took at an anti-ICE protest used by ICE to track down immigrants who protest them. Don’t use Twitter stickers to hide identifying details; it’s quite easy to view the image sans stickers.

If you choose to check in at a protest or post about a protest, be sure that you’re ready to assume the risks. Consider following the Feminist Frequency guide to making yourself safer from online harassment. If your work is likely to fire you for protesting, remove links to it from social profiles. Consider masking up (more on how to do that).

Many people working against fascism now are new to activism and may not know the possible dangers of posting on social media. If you can’t be sure that the crowd is informed of the possible risks involved in posting activist activities online, it’s best to avoid “post on social media” as your call to action.

The United States is only going to get more fascist, the danger more pronounced, as time goes on. Get in the habit of protecting yourself and avoiding harm to other activists now.

[1] not to say that these are by any means categories without significant overlap