Online space presents specific opportunities and challenges for the negotiation of the boundaries between the private and public spheres. At first it can appear as a space in which to vent about private problems under a veil of anonymity, yet the more publically one begins to appear as part of online discussions, the more authentic expression can become forced to take a backseat to how self-presentation may affect future interactions with the people involved. Many of us may be disquieted by the amount of intrusion into our private lives may be granted to the authorities by the reach of online surveillance into our daily lives as it rifles through our chats, emails and Facebooks. However, there have also been instances in online space such as Wikileaks in which it was the privacy of the powerful that was laid out for all the world to see, and police hashtags have been hijacked by victims to reveal cases of police brutality.
The interaction between media such as portable phones and ‘real’ space has created a differential space that has opened up possibilities that were previously inherent in neither. Nowadays, when many of us go out, we would no longer be able to find our ways around easily if we did not have access to online maps on our phones, and would feel disconnected from everything in our lives. Rather than thinking of ourselves as tethered to our phones, we can think of portable phones as opening up practices such as dérive to us while still allowing us to remain connected to friends, family, professional opportunities and emergency services. Police forces have learned to distrust the filming and photography by the phone cameras of protesters and activists, and the campaign to hold them accountable by forcing them all to wear one at all times has been far from incidental.
Online space can be an empowering space for transfolk, especially for those who have not yet transitioned. It can provide them with more control over how they represent themselves in a way which serves as a truer reflection of their inner self, and allow them to connect with a wider community that they could not otherwise reach. However, it can also expose them to the same kinds of harassment as other members of their true gender are exposed to online, or to online harassment for publically appearing online as trans. The devaluation of virtual space can be semantically linked to the devaluation of transfolk, as they revolve around the use of artificial constructs of what counts as ‘real’ or ‘natural’ and what does not to enact social control.
The proliferation of online sex work can be viewed through the lens of seeing the Internet as the space where much of sex workers migrated after being pushed out of RL space. In terms of class it must be remembered that online access is not always as easily to the lower class as to the upper class. Online space can become a public forum for race issues such as the Ferguson debacle, yet there are also limits to what it can accomplish, and while there are counter movements to present alternate models, online space is still unfortunately often used to reproduce whiteness-based standards of beauty. Online censorship across the web betrays various ideological underpinnings, and violence is usually treated with much more leniency than even positive sexuality.
How can we best re-appropriate contested online space so that it does not merely serve as a way to extend the reach of the powerful, but as a means of action for the disempowered?