DIY Platforms as Digital Resistance

In times of crisis, authoritarians will use social media surveillance to crush dissent. It is an imminently ripe low-hanging fruit. You can look to Turkey for a vision of digital oppression in the near-future, arresting over 1600 social media users for alleged political infractions. The U.S. already imprisons Black Americans for Facebook likes and conducts social media sting operations on Muslim Americans. Algorithmic surveillance tools are being purchased by local law enforcement to monitor "threats" from activists and marginalized citizens in real-time. The crackdowns are already here.

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I've long held that you should delete your Facebook as political action. It'd be great to drop the fascist-enabling Twitter too. But it's difficult because all of our friends are on these platforms. For many of us, this is the realm of our political engagement. But funneling our social connections into a handful of easily monitored and unnaccountable platforms is dangerous and unsustainable, especially for those who are the most vulnerable to authoritarian violence. Digital DIY platforms are a cheap, accessible, and empowering way to offset the risk of digital oppression.


Digital Resistance

A DIY platform is a website or application totally under your control. It can be a blog, an electronic resource, a chat server, a note-taking app, whatever. The point is: the platform is yours.

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I don't want to just lecture you on why this matters. Instead, let's look at HACK*BLOSSOM's DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity and imagine what happens when a hypothetical authoritarian regime, let's call it "Trumbo", wants to claim that our guide is providing material support to terrorists. (Let's also assume we haven't been forcefully detained). Imagine that DIY Guide is going viral on social media, probably in response to the massive working class uprisings of late. Trumbo can easily recognize this from the links being passed around in posts and messages, especially when it comes from social networks of "high interest". This angers the fascist!

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So, Trumbo leans on Twitter and Facebook to delete the HACK*BLOSSOM accounts, similar to how alleged terrorist accounts are deleted today (remember, this hypothetical is a time of political crisis, and the bar for "threat" has significantly lowered). No matter! The DIY Guide is alive and well at its url, https://hackblossom.org/cybersecurity, and is still easily accessible from your browser. My contact information is there too, so even without social media, you can get in touch about organizing The Resistance or whatever.

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Trumbo leans on Digital Ocean, our server provider, to take our websites (and thus, the DIY guide) offline. No matter! Because we own the raw HTML of the website, we can simply host it on a new website. Maybe even -lots- of websites. We can embed it in forum posts, we can email it, we can host it as a hidden service on the Tor network. Hell, you could even pass it around on a thumb-drive! And because the DIY Guide is open-source, we can continue publicly updating the Guide as dystopian fashion dictates.

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Trumbo leans on GitHub, our source code host, to take the DIY Guide' code offline. They even detain me this time. No matter! Because the DIY Guide is open-source, a number of contributors and curious web-developers have downloaded the project to their local computers. These folks can continue to distribute and modify the guide freely, so it can live on well after my untimely demise in the internment camp. RIP me!


Creative Resistance

Beyond just the hypothetical futures of digital oppression, where preserving your work could be a matter of life or death, I can't emphasize enough how having my own platform has nurtured my growth as an activist and a writer.

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Prior to HACK*BLOSSOM, I was deeply insecure about my ideas. Posting my thoughts on social media, receiving no likes or comments, made me feel as though I was worthless. It took a long time to realize that visibility on social media does not reflect on how valuable you are. Often, your ideas can be valuable exactly because no-one else has expressed them yet. People typically validate (i.e. like or comment) that which reinforces them, especially when it comes from an "authoritative" (i.e. popular) source. That has nothing to do with you. It shouldn't hold you back.

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Approached with the strength of digital vulnerability and passion, your DIY platform can be an exploratory safe-space. You can post whatever the fuck you want. You can post weird photo collages, 2am video monologues, hardcore leftist porn, whatever. Creating on your own platform frees you from the hateful comments, quantified metrics, censorship, and brand pressures that stifle you on social media. Besides, when you're ready to share, you can always post your work on social media to get the word out.

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In my case, I used the HACK*BLOSSOM platform for writing fiction and poetry. This was a total digression from the cybersecurity work that draws folks to HACK*BLOSSOM, but that's fine, because it's my damn platform and these works give me strength. Not only do I retain total control over my public expression (social media, after, monetizes your digital labor to bring in ad revenue), but I can totally rip the site apart if I want to. It won't live forever in a private database like a Facebook account (which surely lives on even if you delete your account). Ephemerality is a tool of both growth and self-preservation. It will become increasingly essential in the coming years.


Future Resistance

DIY platforms have meaningful potential beyond personal blogs. Imagine a DIY twitter run for you and your close friends across the globe. Imagine a private wiki detailing serial harassers or abusers. When you expand the scope of your resistance beyond corporate social media, you give yourself power. You cultivate self-reliance, self-confidence, creativity, technical skill, and radical community. This strength is available to you now.

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But enough hypotheticals. HACK*BLOSSOM is not interested in what you ~could do~. We're interested in what you can do. In our next post, we will explore how to actually build your DIY platform. Don't worry about how "technical" you think you are, all the skills you need are within reach. Building a platform will, in fact, expand your knowledge of the internet in a way that enriches your experience with technology. You have so much opportunity! I hope you take advantage :)