DENVER, Colo. — A photo taken in the passionate heat of the moment. A vengeful ex. And a recipe for online trouble that could last forever once that picture reaches the Internet.
It’s called “revenge porn,” and states across the country are moving to outlaw it.
“This type of thing is mortifying. It’s humiliating. And once it’s online, it’s nearly permanent,” says Arizona state Rep. J.D. Mesnard, a Republican.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last week signed Mesnard’s bill into law, adding their state to a list that already includes California, Georgia, Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Colorado and Hawaii lawmakers are also considering similar measures.
The selfie culture that’s arisen around Internet-connected smartphones has prompted an explosion of photo sharing. This year, Americans will share an estimated 55 billion camera-phone photos, according to the data-tracking company InfoTrends. But like any technology, someone finds a way to exploit it, Mesnard says.
Holly Jacobs found that out the hard way. Several years ago, she says, a former boyfriend posted explicit photos of her online, without her permission. It was a deliberate effort to hurt and punish her following a breakup, she says.
“We need to recognize that this is a form of sexual abuse,” says Jacobs, who changed her name after the photos went public. “Nobody should be using this to abuse someone else. That’s not OK.”
Jacobs became the face of the problem with her nonprofit, End Revenge Porn, through which she says has heard from thousands of women who have been victimized.
“I think somebody needed to put a face to it, so legislators could understand this is a real issue that affects real people,” she says.
Critics of the revenge-porn laws include the ACLU, which worries the measures are so broadly written that they outlaw legitimate actions, such as posting a picture of a married politician having an affair. Arizona’s law, for instance, arguably makes it a felony to have shared the now-infamous pictures of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, said ACLU staff attorney Lee Rowland. She says the laws need to make it clear that someone knowingly and maliciously shared a photo, instead of simply passing along a picture they found on the Internet.
“No one in their right mind is in favor of revenge porn. But the devil’s in the details,” said Rowland, who works on the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project. “The sharing of nudity online happens all the time, and people aren’t hurt by it.”
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