Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Andrea Martin-Swaby | Revenge porn: the takedown (Part 1)

Published:Wednesday | October 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM

What if you are told that there is a private sexual image being circulated on the Internet that clearly identifies you in a compromising position? Hastily, and with unmasked discomposure, the image is scanned. It is immediately recognised as a photo shared with a person with the expectation that it would not be published.

Today, this has been the unfortunate story of many persons, particularly with the emergence of sexting, and other activities over the Internet involving private sexual images. This can be devastating for victims of this reprehensible act; the negative effects are far-reaching.

The primary concern of those affected may be to limit the exposure of the content, and, if possible, completely remove it from the Internet. But how easy is it to remove the content, and what steps can be taken by an individual to do so? There are two ways to alleviate the problem: removal of the content or suppressing its searchability. Any removal strategy should involve a thorough Internet search to discover where the image can be located on the Net.

If you suspect or have knowledge that a private sexual image is being circulated, it is important that you conduct a detailed search on the Internet. Attempt to ascertain whether this image is confined to a social media site or exists on an independent website. The globally connected network facilitates speedy transmission of data, a vulnerability that creates grave challenges in removing data completely, and which necessitates aggressive and urgent action.

 

THE SEARCH

 

Utilise the available web-search engines to conduct a detailed search. These engines are information-retrieval mechanisms that crawl through the Internet and captures data that contain the search terms inserted in the search box. These engines then provide results in sub-second response times. The primary search engines are www.google.com (created in 1996), www.bing.com (created in 2009), and www.yahoo.com (created in 1994).

These engines are used daily to retrieve data from the Internet. However, when conducting a detailed search for non-consensual sexual images, it is important that different terms are plugged into the engine. Let's say your name is 'KM'. In order to conduct a thorough search, you may insert different terms in the engine such as 'KM', 'KM PORN', 'KM SEX/VIDEO', 'KM NUDE/NAKED'. It is best to use all three search engines, as different information may be captured. This is so as each engine uses different algorithms to display content. One engine may take you to content that is omitted by another, and as such all three are useful.

Now that you have begun your search, be patient and peruse all the pages of the search result to ensure that nothing is overlooked. Having done so, review all the pages carefully and make a note of all the pages or links to the image.

It is also important to note that when a search is done of an individual's name, the search engine will ONLY reveal links to web pages that include the victim's name published somewhere on the page. Some persons may edit the photograph by placing the name of the victim on the image itself, so that the name becomes a part of the image itself. The effect of this is that the web page would not appear in a normal Google word search when the victim's name is used as a search term.

Fortunately, there is a method that can be used to capture images where the victim's name is a part of the image itself. This is called a reverse image search. How is this done? You may visit www.images.google.com, and left-click the silhouette of the camera in the search bar. Then insert the URL of the specific image or upload the image and conduct a search. This will allow you to see where the image is located on the Internet, even where the name of the victim is not posted.

Now that you have ascertained where the material is located on the Internet, take screen shots of the pages where the content has been seen. This is important, as information on the Internet is volatile and may be altered easily with the click of a button. Having completed this first and critical step, you are now aware of where this content is. This is important as if the content is on a social-media website, the method of pursuing its removal may be different than if it is on a pornographic website, or Google.

- Andrea Martin-Swaby, deputy director of public prosecutions, is head of the Cyber Crime Unit. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.