Public. Autonomous. Anonymous. Group. Sexting. At AWID 2016. Oh yeah!

5 October 2016

“Welcome to the Feminist Internet eXchange Hub! Make sure you come back tonight for some group sexting – public, autonomous, anonymous, group sexting!” we called to women as they stumbled in to explore our feminist internet exchange space at AWID Feminist Futures Forum: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice. Sometimes they grinned and asked “what time!?”, sometimes their cheeks reddened and they looked away abruptly. Most were like – “Huh?”

The over fifty women who joined the fun were in for surprises. Surprises about who can really see their messages on a cell phone network. And for those who maybe had never sexted before, it broke down a few pre-conceived ideas they may have had about this much demonized form of sexual expression. Or not!

Inviting feminists to a public group sexting session generates a lot of expectations, and some people that came were just plain curious to see what it was all about, without actually participating.

first, if you are reading this blog – and if you went to the sexting party, one important point is consent. Sexting is ALL about consent. Consent to RECEIVE a sext, consent to portray yourself in one. Keep this in mind, because one of the reasons sexting gets such a bad rap is because of what might happen after – dissemination of intimate images and content WITHOUT CONSENT.

We´re excited to share the experience with all of you who couldn’t be there. But first, if you are reading this blog – and if you went to the sexting party, one important point is consent. Sexting is ALL about consent. Consent to RECEIVE a sext, consent to portray yourself in one. Keep this in mind, because one of the reasons sexting gets such a bad rap is because of what might happen after – dissemination of intimate images and content WITHOUT CONSENT. So if you keep reading, you are offering your consent to read one or two sexually explicit messages. Remember that consent can be revoked at any time. In this case, please stop reading if you feel at all uncomfortable. (We’re serious, because when we are talking about consent, it is all about YOUR DECISION.)

So, let’s explain each one of the components of our live sexting session. First off: PUBLIC. Public because it was open to the public, took place in a public space – oh, and did we mention? All the sexts were projected publicly, and in case you couldn’t read the small print from far away, they were read out loud – over the speaker system – for all to hear. Sometimes our sext readers were also performers, sometimes they were very deadpan. Sexts came in Spanish, Portuguese, English and geek… and maybe some other languages too.

So how could we possibly have centralized all those sexting messages to be able to project them, you ask? This is the AUTONOMOUS part of the exercise. Loreto Bravo at Palabra Radio in Oaxaca lugged some special equipment loaned by the group Rhizomatica all the way to Brazil just for this fun: a transceiver – a device with both a transmitter and receiver that uses shared circuitry. This equipment loan (and Loreto’s know-how!) was essential in setting up the GSM network (Global System for Mobile communications – a systems-standard that is openly licensed and allows telephone-computer connections for sending email and surfing as well as SMS text messages.) Rhizomatica has set up independent, autonomous GSM cell phone networks throughout the mountains of Oaxaca, connecting communities that private cell phone networks don’t find profitable enough to invest in.

For our sexting night, participants first had to connect with this autonomous network provider, which assigned each phone that joined its network its own phone number. This number was then posted on big sheets of paper for all to see – completely ANONYMOUSLY with no connection to who might be holding the phone receiving or sending messages. Over 40 phones were registered. Some participants weren’t sooo concerned about being anonymous and posted their numbers on their backs, like race track runners, hoping to attract more messages.

This was a GROUP exercise – we were all together, everyone sexting everyone, sexts rolling by on the screen, people reading them for all to hear. It was also individual.

This was a GROUP exercise – we were all together, everyone sexting everyone, sexts rolling by on the screen, people reading them for all to hear. It was also individual. Sometimes it looked like everyone was solely focussed on their phone, texting madly. But the group part made it all the more fun. There was lots of laughter as sexts were read out, people sharing a brilliant sext received, or asking ideas about how to be equally tempting and delicious in their response. Lots of shocked gasps and face-fanning too.

Now, these were only text messages (sexting doesn’t ALWAYS have to be a photo – it can be audios, videos, or simple text), and they were sent SMS. At no cost, by the way, because of our autonomous network setup.

In the beginning, messages were simple and subtle, and as more people began to participate so did the level of sexual innuendo. The idea was to explore creative sexting where insinuation is part of the game but the use of explicit and especially aggressive language is avoided. Here’s just a sample to satisfy your curiosity. There were very few sexually explicit messages shared, but as we’re not assuming consent, we won’t post anything too explicit here. Regardless, if you prefer, you can jump right over the sexts and scroll down.

Click on my button, tie me up with cables, shall we do a bit of memory rendering?
hasme click en el botón, rendereame la memoria, amarrame con los cables



We’ve done this exercise before, as part of a Cyberfeminist Fair during Take Back the Tech! last year in Oaxaca, and on both occasions it’s been a playful and fun way to draw us closer to technology – pulling at a lot of interconnected threads that are frequently left unexplored.

This sexting exercise makes patently clear how insecure and transparent some of our communications can be – at the very least to the network provider.

For example, it makes patently clear how insecure and transparent some of our communications can be – at the very least to the network provider. Are your providers offering you secure communications? When you are sexting, this is always a consideration to have in mind – are you encrypting your messages as you send them, do you have an agreement about how they should be stored with your sexting partner(s) or if they should be erased? The exercise touches on questions of privacy (even while explicitly public), anonymity, and sexting.

Happily, many people also had the chance to attend the “Safer Nudes” session run by Coding Rights previously at the Hub – and get hold of their fanzine that shares ideas about safer sexting and our right to sexual expression.

For those who had their first experience with virtual sex, one of the biggest take aways people commented on was how FUN it was to just play, especially the idea that sexting could happen with anyone (not an exclusive partner) and in a group.

This exercise also debunks the idea that only huge wealthy companies are the only ones who can provide infrastructure for our communications. In fact, you can create your own GSM network with low investment. Community-owned infrastructure is increasingly demanding how spectrum is used and prioritizing social and not commercial benefit.

In fact, you can create your own GSM network with low investment. Community-owned infrastructure is increasingly demanding how spectrum is used and prioritizing social and not commercial benefit.

We tried to give every participant a Take Back the Tech! special 10th-anniversary bandana for joining the sexting party – in our view, taking the time to test an autonomous network and claim a portion of spectrum to exercise our right to sexual expression is an excellent way to Take Back the Tech!

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