Beauty tutorial videos regularly rack up millions of views on YouTube. For artist and programmer Addie Wagenknecht, they’re also an unexpectedly ideal conduit for teaching women about their digital security.
Over the last few months, she has created a series of vlogs in which she discusses various ways to keep yourself safe online as she tries out various beauty products like face masks, concealer, and dry shampoo. Her tips include using a sticker to cover your computer’s camera, always putting a password on your phone and computer, and using a service that lets you know if someone has tried to access your microphone.
Wagenknect brilliantly presents her advice–all classic security practices–in a funny, accessible way. “When you’re thinking about passwords, I want you to think about passphrases,” she says as she affixes a minty green sheet mask to her face. “This can be something like, ‘my ex-boyfriend is a crazy mofo.’”
Wagenknect, who has created art using drones and Roombas and who founded a network of feminist artists and hackers called Deep Lab, believes it is important for women to pay attention to their security online because an easily guessed password can make them vulnerable to harassment. That’s true of men, as well, but for women, the stakes can be higher. “Something that I’ve become more and more aware of, especially with everything going on with the #MeToo movement and workplace harassment, is that women and specifically minorities like trans women are targets of violence every day,” she says. “And more often than not, those threats happen from people we know, which makes our needs and issues in terms of technology and digital security a little more specific.”
At the same time, she loves watching beauty tutorials, which help her “escape the reality of the news cycle,” even though she jokes that she never wears makeup. “I love [beauty blogging]. It’s ridiculous and amazing at the same time, and if I can socially engineer that to also include [information about] passphrase and password management, it seems like a really natural match,” she says.
Wagenknect is doing one video every two weeks. To get ideas about what to cover, she asks for what kinds of security tips people are looking for on social media, and then shares her best practices–paired with a beauty product that she’s often picked up at the drug store.
Wagenknect didn’t design the videos so that women watching beauty tutorials would somehow be tricked into viewing them. But she has fooled YouTube’s algorithm: After one video about bronzer and protecting yourself from trolls, the next video to play is a tutorial for Korean V-shape face tape.