Why Social Media’s Fight Against Revenge Porn Should Matter to Everyone

Although the Internet has connected people to one another with relative ease, there are certainly plenty of cons to balance out the pros of this technology. People of all ages are quick to share and post photos and videos of themselves through the mediums of social media websites and apps, texting, email and more, which can lead to problems down the road. What happens when you are no longer on good terms with someone you once shared intimate photographs, or your photos fall into the hands of someone you never intended to see them in the first place? Even worse, what happens if someone takes intimate images of you without your knowledge and posts or shares them? We explore how big a problem revenge porn is, what some social media sites are doing about it and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

A growing problem in the U.S. and beyond

The phenomenon of non-consensual intimate image sharing or non-consensual pornography, commonly referred to as revenge porn, is one that has grown over the years as it has become easier and easier to share and mass distribute images online. According to a memo published by the Data & Society Research Institute in Dec. 2016, one in 25 Americans has been a victim of non-consensual image sharing. Whether perpetrated by someone the victim knows or strangers who have acquired their data through hacking or other means, this type of image sharing is a huge problem and has potential to destroy victims’ lives. Just this week, the House passed legislation to ban non-consensual sharing of nude photos in the military, following a massive scandal within the Marine Corps that involved hundreds of Marines sharing explicit photos of female Marines in private groups online. Although many instances of non-consensual pornography involve media taken without the subject’s consent, plenty involve photos taken and sent by the victim themselves.

In a 2013 survey conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), 61% of the 1,606 people questioned admitted to taking a nude photograph or video of themselves and sending it to someone else, and 23% of the total respondents said they’d been victims of non-consensual pornography. Although this is just a small sample of people, and it only included adults ages 18 and older, these kinds of numbers combined with the numerous scandals and lawsuits in recent years indicate that plenty of people are not only taking and sharing these kinds of photos and videos, but many are being harassed or targeted with them. Not all instances of non-consensual pornography are malicious — as the CCRI notes on its website — making the term revenge porn somewhat misleading. But regardless of the motivations, the ease with which images can be uploaded and shared across social media platforms is problematic when it comes to getting them taken down and punishing the perpetrator. Law enforcement has been slow to catch up with technology as a whole, and victims of all kinds of online harassment have discovered when it comes to reporting the crimes against them.

What are social media sites doing to fight revenge porn?

While the law plays catch-up, some social media sites are taking matters into their own hands, since it’s on these platforms that a substantial amount of revenge porn occurs. This past spring, Facebook announced that it was taking steps to combat the sharing and posting of non-consensual intimate images. According to Antigone Davis, Head of Global Safety at Facebook, the site will utilize a combination of photo matching technology and trained members of its community standards team to not only help remove images flagged as revenge porn, but also prevent them from being re-shared or re-uploaded. In the event someone tries to share or upload a photo that Facebook has taken down, a pop-up will appear telling them that it’s a violation of the site’s policies. It will not be able to be shared on Facebook, Facebook Messenger or Instagram. In many cases, the account which posted the photo in the first place will also be deactivated.

Of course, it’s still largely up to victims to report instances of non-consensual pornography, but the fact that Facebook is taking significant steps to find a solution to the problem of photos being re-uploaded or posted is notable. CCRI worked with Facebook to create a guide on its site that helps people report images on a variety of websites, including other social media sites, image hosts like Flickr and even Google search results. There is also a Facebook-specific guide detailing how users can report images and strengthen their privacy settings. Other social media sites, like Twitter and Reddit, have implemented strict rules regarding revenge porn to try and combat it, but it may be that extra tools like those Facebook is deploying are necessary.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Although this won’t help in the event someone takes photos or video of you without your knowledge or consent, thinking twice before you snap and share is wise. Remember that even people you think are trustworthy could betray you, whether intentionally as a form of revenge or simply through carelessness, such as passing along a photo to their friends. In a world where even non-photographic data can be used to blackmail and harass people, and scammers and identity thieves lurk around every corner, being extra cautious around what you post and share is not a bad thing. Reviewing your security and privacy settings, as well as using strong passwords, can go a long way. If you do become a victim, there are resources like withoutmyconsent.org and CCRI which offer legal advice, psychological support and help with getting content removed.

Parents and guardians should also remember that this is not an issue faced only by adults. Though up-to-date figures are difficult to come by, sharing sexual images is relatively common among teenagers these days, made easy by apps like Snapchat which “delete” photos and videos within a specific time limit. A survey conducted in 2008 found that 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys reported sending semi-nude or explicit photos; nearly a decade later, it’s likely those numbers have risen dramatically. Talk to your kids and teens about the potential consequences of taking and sharing explicit or suggestive images, as well as discuss the support available if they do become a victim of non-consensual pornography or other forms of cyberharassment.

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About Author

Jocelyn Baird

Jocelyn is a NextAdvisor.com writer with a love for coffee, reading and all things personal security. She covers identity theft, credit monitoring, people search and credit cards. She has been a guest on several radio shows nationwide and her cybersecurity and personal finance expertise have been featured by Forbes, USA Today, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, The Huffington Post and more. She is a graduate of Syracuse University with a dual degree in Writing and Rhetorical Studies and Anthropology. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynAdvisor.