Protest selfies might seem harmless, but they make it much easier for police, alt-right folks or government officials to make your life miserable.
I get it. You’re out at the protest, the weather is nice, you’ve got your cutest revolutionary shirt on, and you want to snap a selfie to show the world that you’re on the streets doing good. You want to show that you’re out there and you care about social justice.
Please don’t. Your protest selfies are actively dangerous.
You might be asking, “What? How can it possibly be dangerous? I’ve seen lots of selfies from the Women’s March and the Science March and that was just fine!” Yes, being at a permitted rally surrounded by the white middle class does tend to make for a very different police presence. But that doesn’t mean those images can’t still be scanned later by a government looking to target dissenters. And it certainly doesn’t mean your selfie can’t be used by the alt-right, which lashes out at anyone they consider “antifa.” They’re not going to check your politics before they release your legal name, workplace, home address and family info onto the internet. That selfie could put you and your family in a lot more danger than you know.
This is doubly and triply true when you’re at a direct action that hasn’t got a permit. Police regularly scan social media for names and faces, and if you give them evidence that you were at an action, even if you didn’t do anything illegal, they may well drag you into the station to question you. I know, because that has happened to me — one silly selfie led to a month of anxiety and watching my back, rushing to get legal advice, and even not leaving the house when there were cop cars posted outside. I don’t recommend it.
It’s not just about assessing your own risk, either. Police regularly run crowd photos posted on social media through face recognition software to try and catch people with outstanding warrants on the spot, for example. That selfie can also put people in the crowd, especially marginalized people, at risk for police harassment in the future. Additionally, the police may seize your phone, and the photos you have stored on it can be used as evidence to prosecute you and your comrades. You may have thought about the risks about your selfie and made an informed, consensual decision, but that’s not really a decision you can make for everyone else at the protest.
Side note: this is an excellent reason to be masked at a protest. It’s legal to protest NOW, but it may not always be, and selfies posted online are forever. Police regularly don’t bother to arrest people at protests anymore, instead choosing to use social media photos and footage to identify and arrest people after the fact.
There is one exception I can make, and it’s not a perfect one: If you really must take a selfie at a protest, take a selfie (at a safe distance) with a bunch of fascists as your backdrop. Have their faces be the ones to go through facial recognition software. Have them be the ones at risk of getting doxxed. The concern about consent is there but, as one Nazi shouted at me on April 15, “if you didn’t want your picture taken, why did you come outside?” They’re taking photos and livestreams of you, whether you know it or not (which is why I am always masked, now). All I ask is that if you need to show you were there at that protest, please don’t put your comrades at risk.
I could write another whole article on safety and phones, in general, but other people have done that really well already so I’ll recommend you read them instead. Be safe out there, and save your selfies for another day.
Featured image by David Geitgey Sierralupe. Creative commons license.