In mid 2012 the highest court in Russia ruled against gay pride parades in Moscow for the next 100 years. In 2013 a federal bill banned the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors. Homophobia thrives not just at legal and political levels but is widespread among the general population; according to a 2013 survey 74% believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. As gay teens struggle to find support in public space they increasingly find affirmation online, in closed groups like Deti-404 (The Observer, 2013).
Meanwhile, Chelsea Manning, at the centre of a WikiLeaks scandal in 2010, has come out as transgender and has requested that ‘starting today you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun’ (press release, Aug 22, 2013). Chelsea Manning is currently serving 35 years in a male prison facility where she has been informed that the army will not support hormone therapy or sex-reassignment therapy.
As surveillance of everyday engagement online is increasingly acknowledged by government and private enterprise (including Google’s gmail service) and young people around the world are being alerted to the dangers of cyber-bullying and online predators, how are social perceptions of privacy and safety shifting? Is a closed group on ‘VK’ (the second biggest social network service in Europe, after Facebook) private enough to provide assurance to young queer Russians? Where will Chelsea seek affirmation with restricted online access in a male prison? Can the Dark Web provide an alternative for subaltern publics? Or does the technical expertise and tenacity required to access these spaces of supposedly amplified security make them unattainable for disenfranchised minorities?
This paper draws on current case studies to explore shifting understandings of privacy and networked identity work in cultures where public expression of queer sexuality remains taboo.
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