Additionally, many traditional methods for maintaining relative anonymity on the internet are likely to begin to evaporate. Consider that institutions subject to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires libraries and schools to block access to content that may be “harmful to minors,” will have to decide whether to allow public access to abortion information.
Mass surveillance is so normalized that the basic ways we function in the world ultimately help these technologies become more sophisticated. If you are seeking, providing, or facilitating an abortion, you can take practical measures to secure your digital footprint: perform risk assessments, communicate via Signal and enable disappearing messages, use a VPN on your smartphone and computer, use DuckDuckGo instead of Google, acquaint yourself with existing surveillance technologies like traffic cams, facial recognition, and data scraping, enable two-factor authorization, log out of all your accounts (yes, even when using an incognito browser), only connect to Wi-Fi in public places that don’t require you to authenticate yourself, move money out of third-party apps immediately (and eat the transfer fee), use cash or prepaid cards when you can. Do as much organizing offline as possible.
If you organize publicly, post nothing that could be used to dox you. Some precautions I’ve taken for my own safety as a sex worker include withholding my birthday, age, ethnic background, hometown, current city, former cities, commute, alma maters, graduation years, time zone, weather, current employers, past employers, even my favorite color. When I post photos, I photoshop out my face and tattoos, and I never reveal my natural hair. If I post a screenshot, I crop out any time stamps.
I know this sounds paranoid. These precautions seem excessive; the algorithms seem dystopian. But the oppression these technologies reproduce is insidious and ubiquitous, and those seeking to surveil us have been refining the tools to do so for a very long time. This is exactly why sex workers are preyed upon first: because those in power know nobody will listen to us until you’ve already googled “two weeks late for period.”
When I begin to wonder why people behave the way they do, I answer the query with a question: “What’s seven minus yellow?” Unanswerable and, more importantly, irrelevant. I can’t deduce others’ motives, and even if I could, their motives do not matter when it comes to the effects of their actions. To ruminate on this is, at best, a waste of time, and in the wake of Roe, hemming and hawing over the justices’ intents is the equivalent of bringing a feather to a knife fight.
That said, we can dissect these decisions and try to divine how this legislation will impact us. The first step is to abandon any lingering trust you may have in the integrity of the state.
Neither the intent nor effect of FOSTA or Dobbs is to eradicate sex work or abortions, which have existed for millennia and will continue to exist regardless of legality. Remember: these measures aren’t about the law; they’re about power. Such laws slowly and systemically exclude certain demographics from participation in society by codifying what cultural biases already enforce. Consequently, while some people will face arrest, and many more will live the nightmare of carrying an unwanted or unviable pregnancy to term, the widest-reaching effects of this legislation will be the chilling of free speech and the systemic deplatforming of abortion activists from social media and financial institutions, which will protect themselves from liability at our expense.
The bad-faith arguments that structure these laws become much more apparent when read for what they are: propaganda. FOSTA, for instance, focuses primarily on fighting the “sexual exploitation of children.” Sex work and human trafficking, rather than existing together under the umbrella of “the sex trade,” are diametrically opposed. The dangerous rhetoric conflating them—a linkage that makes about as much sense as comparing a Hershey Park employee to an enslaved cocoa farmer—means that violence against us gets perceived and excused as protecting children from traffickers.
Likewise, the pro-life rhetoric that enabled the Dobbs decision focuses on protecting, in this case, hypothetical children from death. Echoing FOSTA, Alito claims that Dobbs is intended to protect the “potential life” of embryos and fetuses, even at the expense of the mother’s existing life. Intent aside, the result is that many more fetuses—as well as the people carrying them—will die.
Sex workers can offer valuable insights into this fight and those likely to follow, but our voices have been suppressed. Hopefully tech workers will practice what they preach and start listening to sex workers, but if not: Well, that’s by design. In the words of Bardot Smith: Whores told you.