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Digital Wellness

Revenge Porn: What it is and why you should be aware of it

By 22nd Mar 2017Aug 17th, 20212 Comments

The Mischa Barton sex tape, Emma Watson’s leaked photos and supposed naked shots of Amanda Seyfried have brought revenge porn and hacking to the fore. Celebrities have often had their privacy compromised through nude photo leaks, but have you ever thought of it happening to you?

Let’s use an example of how it can happen, and a solution to the problem.

Mindy and her boyfriend break up. She wasn’t too bothered by it, it was coming to an end and he was becoming the kind of partner she wasn’t keen on. However, he was distraught by the news. Mindy thought they handled it responsibly but then her worst nightmare happened. Several naked pictures of Mindy, sent during the relationship, had been posted on Facebook with mutual friends of theirs tagged. Whoever was tagged in those images had them on their timeline, which meant all their friends could see them. Mindy became a victim of revenge porn, where explicit sexual images of someone are distributed without their knowledge or consent.

Mindy isn’t the only one this has happened to. In August last year, a hockey mom accidentally shared a private photo of herself on a hockey WhatsApp group. She apologised and immediately deleted it off the group, but it was too late. Other members of the group had already saved it and proceeded to share it on social media. And this was people she knew, who knows what would have happened if it was someone that would have held those images for ransom?

Social media and the web have made it easier for people to attack, harass and stalk people. Gendered abuse against women is not new, however, digital media has allowed it to happen on a larger scale in new ways. Many people are advised to log off or deleted their profiles – which just ignores the problem and doesn’t solve anything. The digital world is not separate from the real world, we can’t fully opt-out of anything. We need to treat online abuse as an extension of abuse in the non-digital world.

Women are mainly the victims of revenge porn, of the 139 cases reported in the UK between January and April 2015, 80% were women. Research from the End Revenge Porn campaign put the figure even higher, at 90 percent. The same research highlights the very real impact of the phenomenon — 93 percent of victims said they suffered “significant emotional distress”; 82 percent claimed “significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” due to being a victim; 51 percent had suicidal thoughts due to being a victim; 42 percent sought psychological services.

It is still not a criminal act in South Africa, leaving victims of revenge porn — the people who have had their images posted online without their consent — with little by way of legal recourse. But that looks likely to change with the new and proposed Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill headed to Parliament in a few weeks. The bill, first drafted in 2015, aims to “create offenses and impose penalties which have a bearing on cybercrime”, and now includes a clause that will “criminalise the harmful disclosure of pornography”. This includes revenge porn.

It might employ teams of moderators working around the clock, but Facebook’s system for removing offensive content is far from perfect. This is not just an issue for Facebook. Twitter banned revenge porn in March 2015 after ‘the Fappening’, where several stolen celebrity nude photos, which originated on 4chan, were spread on Reddit and Imgur. Reddit followed Twitter’s lead, with CEO Ellen Pao banning revenge porn in July 2015. The decision was met with a campaign of trolling and harassment from Reddit users. Pao resigned eight days later after receiving “sickening abuse”.

In response to this, Facebook is constantly working on improving moderation, generally and in cases of revenge porn. Victims are encouraged to visit Facebook’s Help Centre, which allows victims of emotional or domestic violence to report their ex or current partners. The nature of non-consensual pornography is that once it’s out there, it’s very hard to remove. These companies must implement steps to deter unauthorised disclosures of private information before they happen.

Revenge porn is a serious issue, follow SaveTnet’s tips to stay safe:

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