Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Andrea Martin-Swaby | Revenge porn and social media (Part 2)

Published:Sunday | December 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Andrea Martin-Swaby
1
2
3

Everything conceivable is posted and shared on social media. It may be correct to say that this generation finds sensational content extremely attractive. The same may also be said of purely salacious content. The Happy Monday and Peaceful Tuesday WhatsApp messages rank very low and may even be viewed by many as utter annoyance when compared with the attention given to the more sensational and salacious images of the day.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the consensual transmission of sexual images to friends and intimate partners via the Internet is also a common occurrence. Such image-sharing continues to increase. For this reason, it may be confidently asserted that hundreds of thousands of these images are stored somewhere in cyberspace - ready and waiting for the picking.

It is true that Jamaicans enjoy the constitutional freedom to express themselves. It is a right to be cherished, encouraged, and not to be disturbed lightly. But sadly, the image that was once shared freely, and with the expectation that it would not be redistributed, may become the conduit of a deliberate act of mischief when relationships go sour. That same image may be used to cause shame or embarrass the individual. Revenge pornography is the umbrella term that has been used to categorise this type of activity.

According to a report from the Data & Society Research Institute, roughly four per cent of US Internet users have been victims of revenge porn. The proportion increases to 10 per cent when dealing with women under the age of 30 years. Revenge porn has almost become the Achilles heel of many social-media groups. These networks have been facing increased pressure to suppress and remove abusive and malicious content swiftly and effectively.

In January 2017, it was reported that Facebook had been receiving tens of thousands of reports of revenge pornography each month. Three months later, the giant social-media network announced its introduction of new tools to combat revenge pornography and harassment over the Internet. These self-help tools were intended to assist victims of revenge pornography in having the images removed from the network and to mitigate the harm caused by their transmission and publication.

Facebook announced that if a user sees an intimate image on his website that appears to have been shared without the individual's consent, it may be reported by using the 'report' link that appears when you click the downward arrow. When this is done, Facebook will review and remove the image if it contravenes its community standards. This is facilitated with the use of photo-matching technologies that prevent further attempts to share the image on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram.

 

Community Standards

 

As it concerns the community standards published by Facebook, content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation will be removed. Additionally, images or videos shared in revenge or without the permission of the persons in the video will be removed. Photos of persons displaying genitals or focusing on fully exposed buttocks will also be removed by the social-media network. Users may, therefore, report images or videos of this nature and pursue its removal from the site.

The difficulty with this tool is simply that it is reactive in nature as the offending image would have already been distributed. Consequently, the individual would have already been victimised. Furthermore, the victim would have no control over any Facebook user who decides to subsequently transmit this image elsewhere on the Internet.

Just recently, Facebook announced a new programme that is being piloted in Australia. This initiative, at first glance, may seem appalling and beyond reason as Facebook is asking individuals who are concerned about imminently becoming victims of revenge pornography to send them any questionable nude or sexually explicit images that they believe may be used against them. These images, once sent to Facebook, will then be digitally fingerprinted by Facebook. Once this unique fingerprint is created, any further attempts to reupload the image will be blocked. It will, therefore, act as a measure of immunity against future distribution. This method is proactive and may give the individual an opportunity to take a pre-emptive strike against potential victimisation.

It is evident that social-media sites are taking responsibility for the content being distributed on their sites. Members of these sites should pay attention to the recourse available to them to protect their interests while using these sites. Revenge pornography can be viewed as damaging and its consequences far-reaching. It is hoped that this programme, launched in Australia, may soon be extended to benefit individuals anywhere in the world who wish to protect themselves from revenge pornography.

It must be stated that men and women should exercise care if they choose to send nude images of themselves to other persons. Additionally, such images, if taken, should not be stored on mobile phones and digital devices. The simple reason is that these devices can be stolen, and there is the possibility of these images being accessible to persons with ill intentions who may further transmit them.

Always protect yourself and your images in the digital space. As Whitney Cummings noted, "It's the 21st century. I don't need an alpha male to protect me. I don't need a big, strong man to fight off a tiger. I need a geek who can get my naked photos off the cloud."

- Andrea Martin-Swaby, deputy director of public prosecutions, is head of the Cybercrime Unit. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and martin.swaby.ams@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.