Skip navigation

In his essay “Exposed Net Porn: Penetrating Regulation, Bodies and Sexuality in the Age of the Internet,” Nishant Shah establishes that the relationship between the social, moral, and legal understanding of digital pornography should be built upon the conditions of exposure. He defines that exposure can take the form of both the means of leakage and the exposé. If society only keeps focusing on the content of digital pornography, it is not tackling the important questions of rights and regulation. The documentary Citizenfour not only explains that the NSA and other United States Government agencies are regularly exposing and storing information and digital content, but also seeks to present how the process of exposure affects people across the globe. One must focus on the means of exposure to understand the implications of these actions.

Something that is private resists exposure. In Citizenfour, Jacob Appelbaum states that “what we used to call liberty and freedom, we now call privacy” (Poitras). The importance of privacy is directly related to the means of exposure as leakage. Shah explains that the first type of exposure is active and correlates with the inevitable “leakage” of information. He writes that “the camera and the digital network work in tandem to create nodes of exposure that defy and challenge individual rights and aspirations” (Shah). This is addressed in the opening scene of Citizenfour, when a voiceover reads Edward Snowden’s letter to Laura Poitras: Snowden describes the United States Government agencies as “a system whose reach is unlimited, but whose safeguards are not” (Poitras). The inevitable leakage of information places our “physical bodies in conditions of vulnerability and precariousness” (Chun). By analyzing the means of leakage, we can establish that privacy does not come from the content of digital files. Privacy comes from the ability and inability to circulate these digital files. The more power that the agencies have to circulate and distribute our digital files, the less private our lives become.

Exposure is also related to identity, a key aspect of social life. The second type of exposure, exposure as exposé, seeks to control bodies and information. Shah describes exposé as “a judgment, as a sentence that incriminates, identifies, blames, shames and seeks to tame the bodies that are already willingly in the public domain” (Shah). This type of exposure actually defines our perception of digital objects and shapes our judgement in our day to day lives. Shah uses the example that revenge porn reinforces the idea that women and other sexual minorities have no right to show their bodies and must be kept hidden. This shaming highlights a notion that can be poisonous to a society and contribute to struggle. How does exposé exist outside of revenge porn? One can relate the judgement exposé instills to how the United States Government agencies target information transferred to foreign counties and pays closer scrutiny to this. This can enforce the notion that foreigners and outsiders are different and dangerous. This thought can then penetrate the American consciousness and be detrimental to the relationships with individuals from other countries. In Citizenfour, Edward Snowden reveals that there are hundreds of surveillance drones in other countries. He explains that these drone feeds are accessible, but there is no context of who and what the drone is meant to be spying on. The contextless feed reveals how judgement that these different places should be under surveillance because they are dangerous can be imposed on these images from other countries though exposé.

To understand the politics and practices of digital media, one must look at the means of exposure. For example, arguments for a big question such as the definition of freedom can be found in the process of exposure; The notion of freedom has been changed to the ability to resist exposure and to maintain information private. We must also look at the different ideas exposure as exposé reenforces or subverts. The closer scrutiny placed on international information reveals a panic in the American consciousness that foreigners are dangerous, different and ultimately evil. The close relationship between morals, politics, and collective consciousness can be explored by examining the way information is exposed.

Works Cited

1. “Imagined Networks, Global Connections,” Wendy Chun.

2. “Exposed Net Porn: Penetrating Regulation, Bodies and Sexuality in the Age of the Internet,” Nishant Shah .

3. “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras.