Roy Morgan's data tracking so-called "freedom" protestors / A screenshot from a TikTok account slutshaming users


Last week Roy Morgan proved that conspiracy theorists are actually right about something. The pollster shared mobile phone location data from where the so-called “freedom” (aka anti-vaccine mandate, pandemic law, any COVID-19 measure really) protesters had come from before their rally.

It turns out these types might be paranoid but they’re not wrong about everything. Someone is tracking them. Not with a microchip in the vaccines, but with the smartphone in their pocket or purse.

It reminded me of other “conspiracy theories” I’ve seen in these online communities. Like someone pointing out that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are all owned by the same company, or the common trope of painting one of the world’s most generous philanthropists Bill Gates as a nefarious puppet master.

We know that enormous corporates like BlackRock and SoftBank have fingers in pies in almost every sector around the world, giving them an incredible amount of power. We know that industries like the fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading the public, obscuring the truth and buying influence with political elites in order to line the pockets of executives. (And don’t even get me started on Jeffrey Epstein and his little black book.)

Maybe I’ve spent too long in insane Telegram channels and Facebook groups because I’m starting to feel that the future feared by these communities is already here. Let me explain.

When I spoke to ANU conspiracy theory researcher Professor Colin Klein in early 2020 — about bushfire misinformation, what a throwback! — he explained to me that people who believe in far-fetched ideas are often looking for a story to explain a complex and uncertain world.

The tragedy is that the stories conspiracy theorists tell are often close to but not quite the truth. Many of their frustrations are rooted in real injustices and inequities but they’re lashing out at the wrong target. By giving them the wrong “answer”, conspiracy theories risk disenfranchising their adherents further when their theory of the world turns out to be false. Plus most conspiracy theories are usually just poorly veiled ways of blaming Jews for the world’s problems which is no bueno.

It is a bit comforting to know that reality is much more mundane than what conspiracy theorists might have you believe. There’s no all powerful lizard person or (((George Soros))) directly controlling it all. But it’s this banality that is also part of the problem.

Surveillance capitalism is sucking every morsel of data from our existence because a bunch of business types in a boardroom told a bunch of engineer types to make it happen. They know where you go, who you know and even how you’re thinking because their exciting tech start up was running out of money and they needed something to tell investors so they could cash out their stock one day. And you technically agreed to this because you wanted to use free wi-fi or to play a mobile game on a long bus ride.

A screenshot of a post made by a member of an online conspiracy community (Image: Supplied)

How did the freedom protesters react when they saw that their every move was being tracked and made public? One or two members of their online communities seemed upset, but most ignored it. With the vindication of their fears staring them right in their face — in the form of a press release rather than a whistleblower’s testimonial or hidden code in a public message — they were more interested in the imagined than the real dystopia we live in.


Anti-vaxxers are targeting NT Indigenous communities with quarantine and vaccine conspiracies

These bad actors and grifters are like digital parasites. They jump from host to host, use them and then leave them worse for wear. Indigenous Australians and locked down North Territorians are just their latest victims. (Crikey)

Algorithms, not trolls, the crux of online hate speech

The government’s new anti-trolling bill won’t majorly affect trolling. Doing something about algorithms that guide all of their users behaviours? Now, that’s interesting. (AFR)

Craig Kelly: MP banned from Facebook appointed to Parliament’s social media inquiry

My official statement on this development: “lol”. (Guardian Australia)

Australia commences work on electronic surveillance law reforms

One to keep an eye on. There is so much happening in this space that a holistic look at it all is necessary and urgent. (ZDNet)

Why fixing your broken phone could become a hell of a lot easier

The right to repair movement is close to my heart because I believe it’s a way that people can exert power over the businesses that produce our tech. A new report from the Productivity Commission says our laws need reform. (Junkee)

I made $42.75 buying crypto. Now I don’t know how to cash it out

My heart wants cryptocurrencies to work. My head, my eyes and my guts say they don’t, yet. I was sick of reading cryptoboosters or haters dominating the coverage, so I’m writing a monthly column about what it’s actually like for a normal person to try and use them. P.S. I’m now down $10.38 on my investment. (Crikey)

Content Corner

Pinch your nose. I want to tell you about something gross I’ve been coming across on TikTok.

There’s a slew of accounts trying to sabotage the lives of young women by slut-shaming them to their family for expressing their sexuality on the platform. The people behind these accounts record a video from an (always female) TikTok user that’s about sex: having one night stands, having sex with their partners, or even just their sexual preferences. Then they use publicly available information like account name or linked Instagram account to track down a family member like a parent and send them the video.

A screenshot of a slut-shaming TikTok account (blurring added by Crikey)

Ironically these accounts are anonymous themselves because the owners are too cowardly to put their real name on something I doubt their own parents would be proud of.

People tag these slut-shame accounts in comments of videos of women, asking them to do a video on them. Others bray in the comments, calling the victims “sluts” or thanking the account for making a video. It’s disgusting and misogynistic. Even as we as a society become more comfortable with young women expressing their interested in sex — the same interest that men have been allowed to express forever — there are still reactionaries trying to hurt them.

It also exposes the uneasy balance between our versions of self that are dictated by the platforms. There’s a different Cam on Facebook, on Twitter, on TikTok, even in WebCam. We adjust ourselves for different mediums and the audiences that come with them.

The slut-shaming accounts work because they collapse worlds. They puncture through the thin membrane of protection that comes from assuming that Mum isn’t watching my TikToks. Of course the women who post these videos know that anyone can see their public videos and know this could happen. But they rely on the good faith of the audience to know their jokes or expression of self are meant to stay between them.

But on the internet it’s unwise to rely on good faith.