Fediverse

I have a lot to say about the internet. Most of it is negative (insofar as I hate it, and computers generally, and would hypothetically prefer to do without the lot of it), but up to a point, I can wax positive too. I grew up with the internet, after all. Interesting things have come out of things that I learned there, or relationships with other people that were either initiated and/or substantiated there. Lots of people can relate, I'm sure.

I first heard about the fediverse – which I will explain better in a moment – in late 2018. At that time, I had been running a blog on Tumblr that was also about nudism (for the most part, at least), but then it was announced on December 3 of that year that Tumblr would be changing its policy on nudity in just two weeks' time, effective December 17. The content of my blog actually included quite a few depictions of nudity, and I felt that that was pretty much that on that, i.e. I wasn't going to continue using Tumblr. There weren't very many other nudist and/or naturist blogs that I considered worth following, but the few that I did care about also went defunct once they were no longer able to post pictures of naked people.

The current iteration of this blog, here on chi.st, doesn't have any pictures (except for that one of Luigi up at the top), and I have made a pretty big deal about being “against representation” myself – but I think it makes sense to imagine that, well, nudists and/or naturists will probably want to be able to depict “female-presenting nipples” and other such parts of the human anatomy from time to time. I certainly enjoyed reblogging funny, on-theme image macros from across Tumblr (and theoretically, I would do the same more from my Mastodon/Hometown account on ni.hil.ist if, like, the fediverse had a similar output of nudism-relevant funny stuff as Tumblr did in 2018).

Right now, there don't seem to be very many nudists and/or naturists on the fediverse (if there are more, I don't think I have found them yet), and the nudist-naturist space on the internet seems to be pretty ignorant of the fediverse's very existence. Their screen time and their attention, instead, is focused on major platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and – to a lesser degree – the likes of Tumblr and Pinterest. In other words, platforms owned by major companies that seek, above all, to maximize profit.

As far as I know, all of these platforms have hostile policies with respect to unfettered, consequence-free sharing of depictions of human nudity. These companies are still beholden to governments, most of which have laws against (certain genres of) pornography. Pictures of nudists living their lives run afoul of these laws in many jurisdictions, and even where they are legal, the may nevertheless be understood as pornographic by large numbers of people. Profit-seeking companies need to have governments on-side and populations on-board, and thus nudity is a problem. How, then, to handle that problem? A comprehensive ban may be more cost-effective than assiduous moderation that, more likely than not, will fail to even satisfy the larger, more important, and more conservative part of the user base, i.e. the users who matter, unlike representatives of the naturist subculture and/or whatever other assortment of libertines and weirdos there are.

It is, in any case, the shareholders and the CEOs – Zuckerberg, Doherty, et al. – who have all of the power here. These platforms are not public assets, beholden to the will of some idea of “the people”; they are privately owned fiefdoms, the property of monied partnerships. Even if (sufficiently online) nudist-naturists were thrice as numerous and/or thrice as politically powerful as is the case, their complaints and petitions would still amount to nothing in the calculus of making policy decisions.

From a perspective that seeks to perpetuate the naturist subculture, then, this is a problem. The administrator of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park's Reddit account, possibly Stéphane Deschênes himself, recently wrote that Facebook, Instagram, et al. are “de facto public spaces. If you don’t or can’t use them, you are excluded from public discourse.” There is certainly some truth in that comment, and I think it's fair to say that nudists of any kind are going to be less able to propagate their ideas than the partisans of any other position that is able to use these platforms without restrictions. Personally speaking, based on what I've seen, it seems that nationalism and conspiracy theory – simple ideas that act on anger and fear – are privileged by the algorithms on these sites, and the mere presence of depictions of human nudity (evidently a critical component of naturist activists' prefigurative politics) will cause a lot of people to recoil before they can take in any ideas at all. But, still, it's true: a different policy would allow nudist-naturists to participate in public discourse to a larger degree than they can currently, it would allow them to perform a certain kind of activism-by-selfie (hashtag “normalize nudity” and all that) that other people could see, and all of this might have some marginal impact on the vitality of that subculture.

But it's a moot point, because it's not happening.

If the goal is to post naked selfies – and that largely seems to be what it's about – then it makes so much more sense to build new web infrastructure than to petition these companies to change their ways or, otherwise, petition governments to force them to change. Even before the recent Facebook vs. Australia showdown, the idea that governments can do anything, in most cases, is laughable in and of itself, and it's even more ridiculous to think that they would take up the cause of nudist-naturists! This is simply not a realistic approach to the problem, such as it is.

Enter Mastodon – and the fediverse more broadly.

Eugen Rochko et al. have been maintaining Mastodon, a Twitter-like microblogging software using the ActivityPub protocol, since 2016. ActivityPub is a decentralized protocol, like email. What that means is that anyone can set up their own “instance”, at their own URL, which will then be able to communicate with any other instance in a straightforward manner, just as an email from nu@gmail.com can go to nue@protonmail.com without problem. It is relatively easy to set up a Mastodon instance, or to use an entirely different sort of software that also relies on ActivityPub, but which is still going to be able to interact with other ActivityPub-reliant services that serve the same “type” of content. The administrator(s) of each instance can then determine their own policies about what content they will allow, which instances they want to block (because all instances are “federated” by default, hence “fediverse”), and so on.

In other words, it's a free-for-all where people can make their own rules about depictions of nudity or just about anything else. Governments may try to impose their rules over servers that are physically located within their jurisdictions, but they are much less likely to know about each small instance, much less likely to care about it, much less likely to know what to do about it – as opposed to the bigger companies who, at least, offer a relatively straightforward process for governments to make demands for various kinds of information.

The profit-seeking logics of bigger companies also don't really apply. Most instances are run at a loss, but a modest one, often sustainable on the salary of a single administrator or, otherwise, by a collection of people who are all willing to pitch in to pay the bills.

As far as a “public square” goes, the fediverse still has many less users than the big sites that have managed to corner the market in human attention, but that is to be expected. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that more users will show up, and I also think that, to the extent that this could be a good thing – or at least a superior option compared to other options, i.e. continuing to rely on Twitter, Facebook, et al. – there is some space for individual agency to have an effect, i.e. people can join up and encourage people they know to do the same. (I tend to think that the effect of people with larger followings, a Stéphane Deschênes for instance, might have a larger effect than relatively anonymous and obscure users saying the same.)

The major advantage of the fediverse, though, is that it avoids the “island” problem that exists with everything else, including purpose-built nudist-naturist websites like TrueNudists.com (which is, incidentally, utter trash). Perhaps there are still islands on the fediverse, each with its own rules and effective rulers, but it is relatively easy for people to migrate around, discover new content, and so on, without losing everything, having to learn a whole new software, etc.

At the moment, I am aware of only one Mastodon instance with a specific focus on naturism and/or nudism, the aptly named naturism.social, which is run by one Matt Crawford of Iowa. I have a lot of misgivings about this site, some of which has to do with my opposition to naturism as an ideology (as opposed to either comfortism and/or anarchism), but more of which has to do with Crawford himself, a guy with a Gab account – which, for those in the know about Gab, probably says enough about the guy's politics and how I might personally feel about them.

It is fortunate, then, that naturists and/or nudists have many other instances – not necessarily on any kind of nudist or naturist theme – where they can set up accounts and post to their hearts' content. Not all instances are completely posi about nudity, but plenty are, and they may have other praiseworthy features as well.

At the same time, it is unfortunate that, apart from Crawford (and one other person, whose lower-profile project I won't post publicly, for fear of bringing too much traffic to his site), there don't seem to be any efforts to build up fediverse infrastructure that specifically caters to the needs or desires of nudists and/or naturists. Once again, I feel the need to mention Stéphane Deschênes specifically, in part because a recent post on Bare Oaks' blog bragged that, thanks to a new fibre optic installation, those folks would now be able to host their own “naturist server farm”. Surely, then, they could endeavour to learn about Mastodon, or some other software using ActivityPub, in order to provide a viable service that is neither an island unto itself nor, like naturism.social, under the sole control of a Trump supporter? They would also have enough of a following to bring a lot of other people on-board.

At this point, it's worth saying, again, that I think the internet sucks. More precisely, I think online sociality is a wasteland. And yet I cannot deny that it is important, at least for subjects (such as myself) that are caught up in societies that have, broadly speaking, gotten screenlost. Given this fact, and considering it more or less immutable, there are probably numerous incidental benefits to the relatively decentralized sort of internet that the fediverse represents a part of, as opposed to the highly centralized model of the internet that is currently extant.

I personally don't want to use the internet to post, or see, unremarkable naked selfies – or to join, like, a voice chat channel for “nudist gamers” with whom I can chat about... being naked? while gaming? Like, I sort of think this type of thing is weird and/or distasteful and/or seriously detrimental to the ability of people, either individually or collectively, to exercise any kind of power that can compete in any way with presiding power structures (e.g. Facebook, neoliberalism, civilization, etc.). But hey, I wouldn't mind, say, some capacity to find roommates in my area who could be chill with nudism, to share news about public spaces where swimming naked (or like, playing volleyball naked, whatever) will be lower-risk and/or free, etc. In other words, I would appreciate any service that allowed me to live a life online that facilitated the kind of relatively more naked life I'm trying to live offline, and that helped out anyone else with a similar life orientation.

In any case, my own preferences and positions should only mean so much to the ways that others choose to engage with the internet. Who am I to say that people shouldn't have a nudist gamer voice chat channel, this critique notwithstanding? Who am I to say that, uh, people shouldn't be each others' “virtual shower buddies”?

I should mention that, a few weeks ago, I was, quite apropos of nothing, made into a moderator of the mostly defunct subreddit r/anarcho_naturism, presumably because I recently posted a link to this blog there, been very clear about the fact that I am an anarchist, and the other moderator, whose flair is “anarcho-naturist”, is also a moderator of the significantly more active subreddit r/naturism, so it's fine to concede me that turf. Alas, in part because I am not a naturist, and in part because I am really not okay with giving the corporate internet my attention for many reasons, it's not a particularly appealing bit of turf to own.

With respect to this project and its concerns – namely, articulating a specifically anarchist practice, philosophy, and sensibility of nudism (as anarcho-naturism once did, and which I hope either nudism-comfortism and/or anarcho-comfortism will be able to do going forward) – it seems useful to have some kind of space where other people can talk about the ideas, start to lead their own conversations (for instance, on topics I know less about, or about which I am less confident I have anything useful to say), and otherwise just build up some hype and/or leave me comments that encourage me to write more. I suppose r/anarcho_naturism could serve as such a space, but I much prefer raddle.me, which is run by an anarchist whose politics, as far as I can tell, I like. I also like a lot of the other users!

So, if you want, feel free to continue the conversation – about the poverty of online sociality or anything else! – at f/nudism. I'm looking for moderators, I guess?

A final word: chi.st runs on WriteFreely, which is another ActivityPub-based protocol; what this means is that this blog can be subscribed to using just about any Mastodon account, for instance, simply by searching @nudism-as-an-illegalism@chi.st within that application's own search bar. The URL https://chi.st/nudism-as-an-illegalism/feed/ can likewise be entered into an RSS reader. It's also possible to follow the Hometown account associated with this blog (Hometown being a fork of Mastodon), the discovery of which I leave as an exercise for the reader; I crosspost every blog entry on chi.st with searchable hashtags.