Session 3: Digital dangers. Exposure, surveillance and emotional exploitation in online activism and solidarity practices

Rethinking Connectivitty as Being Exposed: Solidarity and the Recognition of Precariousness in the Digital Age 
Jennifer Eickelmann

With the concept of precariousness, Judith Butler has proposed the recognition of subjectivity’s fundamental vulnerability. In the context of feminist/political theory, this concept and its critical positioning against the libertarian idea of sovereignty has been turned into a political issue from the very beginning. Ongoing debates developed since the 1990s raise new questions nowadays, especially against the backdrop of digitization. This is because digital technologies clearly reveal the precariousness of subjectivity, like e.g. new forms of online harassment demonstrate. 

My talk will carry out a diffractively reading of Butlers notes on precariousness/precarity with Karen Barad’s and Donna Haraway’s notions on the reconfiguring of subjectivity in the light of emerging technologies. By reading-insights-through-one-another, Butler’s concept of precariousness and vulnerability can be opened to the recognition of the conditions of digital media. My point is that feminist and queer solidarities are hardly based on sovereignty and authority but on the recognition of being entangled with and exposed to digital technologies. 

With a focus on Online Harassment I will introduce current developments of digital platforms and the role of economic and political discourses. I will argue that these aspects interfere with boundary making processes relevant to gender, race and further categories (1.). By proposing a concept of Mediatized Disrespect beyond the dualism of “Hate Speech”/“Free Speech”, my argument stresses the contingency of (digital) signs and its potential to develop different forms of thinking. In that sense, thinking about resistance and solidarity acquires the recognition of being entangled and being exposed (2.). In a wider theoretical sense, I will make the argument, that a conceptualization of resistance and solidarity must reconfigure ideas of materiality and the body (3.) as well as concepts of accountability and responsibility. In that sense, thinking about resistance and solidarity acquires the recognition of being entangled with and being exposed to – beyond the idea of sovereignty (4.). 

1. Introduction: “Hate Speech” 
Sexism, racism and classism have long been constitutive parts of the infrastructure and communication cultures of digital platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other. Current debates on Online Harassment or Online Hate Speech demonstrate in a haunting way that discussions about the relationship of semiotic and material qualities of expression on the internet by now play out in numerous battlefields of scientific and political confrontation, especially in the context of legal forces. Communications in the context of digital public spheres on the internet or digital platforms have to be regarded as multimodal practices of addressing.

2. Beyond dualisms: The need for a new concept of online harassment
As I will show in my talk, there is a need to get beyond the dualism of Free Speech vs Hate Speech because both of the two sides have problematic consequences. Instead, it is necessary to conceptualize online harassment as an ambiguous interference pattern which – and that is important to me – can potentially threatening lives. Online harassment is not a matter of ‘Free Speech’ nor a matter of ‘Hate Speech’ per se, its effectiveness depends on the very situation. It is not just a semiotic game – as many representatives of the free speech discourse claim, nor an immediate material practice – as many representatives of the hate speech discourse claim. In how far online harassment becomes material and is threatening lives cannot be defined in advance but is a matter of the very situation and its performative effects.  

3. Reconfigurung materiality and the body
The body’s materiality is not prior human, but marks a materiality which is inherent to human-technological entanglements. In this regard, subjectivity appears neither as an ontological human nor solely technological entity but as an intra-active phenomenon. The virtual is a complex diffraction pattern which is embedded in technological, economic and political processes of mattering. In that sense, online harassment matters because the subject and therefore the body comes “to ‘exist’ by virtue of [a] fundamental dependency on the address of the Other.” (Butler 1997, 5). These complex dependencies can be conceptualized as diffraction patterns to make specific forms of precariousness and therefore vulnerability visible. Boundary making processes and politics of identity and sovereignty has to be uncovered as “agential cuts” within a diffraction pattern which is moderated by cultural and technological norms and orders of recognition or a ‘scheme of recognition’ as Butler calls it.  

4. Conclusions: Reconfiguring relations of accountability and responsibility/response-ability
Finally, my talk argues that “accountability” has to be separated from libertarian ideas of ‘individuality’, and ‘self-responsibility’. I will argue that feminist and queer solidarities are not about individuality with its libertarian agenda but about shared experiences and the recognition of historical as well as structural forms of violence. 

The Magic Closet in Times of Corona: Queer relations building through art practice across (post-soviet) spaces
Katharia Wiedlack, Masha Godovannaya, Ruthia Jernbekova, and Tania Zabolotnaya

Throughout the post-Soviet spaces, LGBTIQ+ activisms are increasingly threatened through new legislations, far-right activism and social pressure. Art spaces and practices, however, seem to foster a safer environment for non-heteronormative and gender non-conforming people and communities. This suggests that international solidarity efforts could offer meaningful support and build encouraging queer relations through artistic means and within art spaces. Any international collaboration could, however, increase the precariousness of queer lives through exposing them to publics and authorities, if done carelessly. Covid-19 and the subsequent retreat into the sphere of online meetings and relations have additionally influenced the possibilities for transnational queer relations, heightening the danger of (online/internet) surveillance and hostile (virtual) encounters. Hence, new (artistic) methods of relationality have to be invented to respond to these (new) circumstances. 

In our presentation we will briefly introduce our current art research project “The Magic Closet and the Dream Machine” within which we suggest new ways of creating queer relations accross post-Soviet spaces and invest(igate) into post-Soviet queerness, archiving, and forms of resistance. Transnational solidarity efforts and research often aim at increasing queer visibility, fighting for (state) recognition, human rights etc. Such visibility, however, often creates unwanted attention and leads to further oppression (Nemtsova 2017; Rettman 2015). Our arts-based research methodology challenges the Western ‘visibility paradigm’, drawing on the Caribbean thinker Édouard Glissant and his concept of ‘opacity’ as a human right (1997). Following Glissant’s ethical theoritisation and conceptualizing opacity as an artistic methodology we aim at forming queer transnational relationality in times of seemingly universal surveillance and public control, white homonormativity/homonationalism in some parts of the world, and increasing homophobia in others. We propose an artistic approach to opacity as a point of connection that can be useful in times of physical distancing and beyond. 

Together with local queer communities we build the Dream Machine, a rotating flicker device. Working together we aim at creating spaces, where anyone can feel comfortable to focus on their lives, feelings and dreams. Later we support each other in transforming the experiences with the Dream Machine device into different artistic forms from texts to videos and from drawings to performances. On a meta-level the opening up of an artistic community space is an attempt to create alternative spaces of resistance, where queer lives can enjoy (relative) safety, people can build connections to each other and imagine better futures together. Moreover, it is the attempt to rethink seemingly unchallenged dogmas present in queer and feminist communities such as the idea that being in the closet equates being dishonest, cowardly, apolitical or ashamed etc. To this end we reappropriate the concept of the gay closet (Kosofsky Sedgwick 1990) as a positively connoted magic closet – as a metaphor and point of reconceptualization of queer and feminist ethics as well as an actual place where the artistically created traces of queer lives can be kept safe and become shared. This Magic Closet will be an open-access digital archive of traces that emerged during the Dream Machine sessions, that recognizes the queer lives in post-Soviet spaces but does not endanger them or make them vulnerable. 

In our short presentation, we will start by presenting our research terminology and arguing why it is more applicable in the context of post-Soviet spaces. We will briefly discuss the applicability of Western concepts such as queerness, coming out, LGBTIA+ identities etc. Thereafter we contextualize our research, giving a brief overview of the recent sociopolitical challenges that queer lives in the post-Soviet spaces are facing and arguing that arts-based research methods are a promising approach in this particular context. Next we describe the development of our own Dream Machine methodology: summarizing the critical scholarly work on visibility that we can build on, introducing the concept of opacity and its application and, finally, describing the Dream Machine methodology in detail. Finally, we will present some of the preliminary research results of our first attempts to build and use the Dream Machine with members of the post-Soviet queer community of Vienna. 

The political potential of affective collectivity – exploring Danish fat activism on Instagram  
Maj Hedegaard Heiselberg and Lene Bull Christiansen

On july 14th, 11 Danish fat women and one fat man met at Moesgård beach in the Eastern  part of Jylland, Denmark. Some of them had never met before. Others knew each other from  the year before when a similar event had taken place. The women and the men took off their  clothes until there was nothing left but their underwear. They put on make-up, glitter and  fixed their hair. And then they started taking pictures of their bodies. 

This paper explores the affective practices of a group of Danish fat activists on Instagram. With point of  departure in feminist approactes to affect (Ahmed 2004, Hemmings 2012), digital activism (Mendes 2015,  Baer 2016, Mendes et al. 2019), and everyday life (Felski 2000, Pink 2012, Highfield 2016) we argue that  the Danish ’fatosphere’ (Pausé 2015, Lupton 2018, p. 82) form the basis for a wider political movement  that challenges conventional norms of the female body. We ask: How do the affective practices of the  Danish ‘fatosphere’ engender feminist solidarity and radical social change in relation to Danish body  politics. And furthermore, how do these practices spark new discussions concerning analytical definitions  of activism in a digital age. The study from which this paper draws its ethnographic material is, thus, not  solely focused on intentional or overt activist practices. Instead, we investigate how practices of solidarity  and care in opposition to prevailing body norms become political, and how the movement from  individual experience to collective critique (and possibly political chance) is, at once, motivated by and  the result of what we refer to as affective collectivity. 

Not all of our informants identify as activists themselves, which may partly be a consequence  of internal discussions within the Danish fat positive community concerning what defines ‘fat activism’  and how to navigate this field on social media platforms. However, for analytical purposes, we use the  terms ‘activist’ and ‘activism’ because the practices of our informants have political potentials that reach  beyond the actors involved. As a consequence, this paper simultaneously asks what it means to be an  activist, and what has come to define activism as practice and concept? We seek to answer these questions  by discussing the ways in which communality arises out of affective practices in this arena, and how such  practices can be understood as feminist everyday activism. We take a clue to our definition of everyday  activism from Roger Silverstone, who maintains that online practices (such as the ones we analyse) are  not separate from our material lives (Silverstone 2007, p. 32). 

We therefore approach this study via an understanding of online activity as intimately present in the daily  lives of our informants – and as providing potential frames for their understanding of their own bodies 

and social relations. And furthermore, that these frames may form the basis for collective action – activism.Because our study is in its early stages, this paper is a first attempt at exploring this field via a  case study. We have selected this from our preliminary empirical findings. The case which we analyse is  an event – that is, it is set outside of the everyday life of our informants. However, we use it as a catalyst  for understanding 1) how daily interactions between informants on Instagram have formed the basis for  the event, and 2) how the event becomes interwoven into everyday practice by referring back to it in  Instagram-posts, and 3) how the collectivity of the event creates collective frames of understanding, affect  and community, which has effects not only in the lives of our informants, but also in a wider feminist  fat(activist) community. 

Social Media Surveillance, LGBTQ refugees and asylum. How can we provide queer solidarity to refugees when migration authorities demand refugees to perform stereotypical (non-queer) online sexualities? 
Rikke Andreassen

The presentation stems from my activist work in the organisation LGBT Asylum – a Danish NGO that assists LGBTQ+ asylum seekers through the legal process. During the previous years, we have witnessed a change in the emphasis migration authorities place on social media. Today, it is common practice for immigration authorities to ask about asylum seekers’ social media accounts and to sometimes even request access to asylum seekers’ mobile phones. The authorities then investigate asylum seekers’ mobile phones and social media accounts, looking for self-expressions that can confirm or disconfirm their claims of being LGBTQ. 

My presentation focuses on the role of social media content in asylum cases. Taking Denmark as a case study, I examine asylum verdicts from 2015–2019. The UN Refugee Convention grants asylum to persons with a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’ (UNHCR, 2010: 4). Sexual orientation and gender identity fall under the category of ‘membership to a particular social group’. Legally, asylum seekers carry the burden of proof. For LGBTQ refugees, the burden is twofold: first, they must prove that they belong to the ‘social group of LGBTQ people’; second, they must prove that they are in danger because of their LGBTQ status (see also Shakhsar 2014). Research points this burden being particularly challenging for LGBTQ refugees (Akin, 2017; Ferreira, 2018; Jansen and Spijkerboer, 2011; Lewis, 2013). In my presentation, I analyse how social media is used to satisfy the burden of proof or to discredit the claim of LGBTQ refugees, i.e. how content on social media platforms are used to prove (or discredit) LGBTQ identity claims.

My findings show that migration authorities use social media as a tool to determine asylum claimants’ credibility. Social media profiles, such as Facebook accounts, seem to function as an archive of digital traces, where old posts and pictures can be brought forward to inform about the ‘truth’ or ‘fraud’ of the refugee’s sexuality or gender identity. Metcalfe and Dencik (2019: 5) characterise refugees’ digital infrastructure (smart phones and online platforms) as ‘double-edged’; while refugees depend on this infrastructure, governments use the same digital infrastructure to control borders and manage migration. In my material, refugees who use platforms such as Facebook to remain in contact with family members left behind, experience the same platforms and same postings to family members being scrutinized by migration authorities and causing potential rejection of asylum claims. 

During the asylum process, social media content – photographs, messages, comments and likes – becomes transferred into evidence to support or oppose a claimant’s asylum case, and thus, her/his/their sexuality and/or gender identity. The media content seems to be transformed into either proof of a claimant’s story and sexual identity or as discrediting evidence, leading a claimant to be deemed ‘untrustworthy’; there is limited (or no) space for ambivalences. In this process, immigration authorities seem to imbue social media content with a ‘truth factor’ that has not previously been inherent to social media platforms. I argue that the privilege of experimenting with gender identity and sexuality online, and to experiment and express oneself ambivalently is not an option for LGBTQ asylum seekers. Such privilege is reserved for people with secure citizenship statuses. 

I further show how migration authorities expect LGBTQ refugees to demonstrate particular online behaviours, demanding them to be ‘out’ online, and linking sexuality to visibility and consumerism. 

The verdicts demonstrate that online expressions of gender and sexuality that align with stereotypical understandings are likely to provide refugees with asylum, whereas queer and ambivalent expressions can cause deportation. I am interested in discussion how we – as media scholars and queers aiming at solidarity with refugees – can support LGBTQ refugees (in all their queerness and diversity), when we know that migration authorities favour very stereotypical online expressions (?). How do we deal with the disappearing agency in refugees’ online performances of gender or sexuality, when online postings related to sexuality or gender identity come to function as evidence of ‘truth’ or ‘fraud’ in asylum cases (?). I do not have the answers to these questions, but I would like to discuss and talk about them.

Theoretically, my presentation situates itself within critical data studies (e.g. Eubanks, 2017; Noble, 2018; van Dijck, 2014; van Dijck et al., 2018), data justice (e.g. Metcalfe and Dencik, 2019; Dencik et al., 2018) and queer studies (e.g. Butler, 1999; Halberstam, 1998). 

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