Áine Kenny looks at the worrying trend of 'revenge porn' on social media and why young people should be aware of the dangers.
While living in the digital age undoubtedly has many benefits (who doesn’t love Netflix and instantly messaging people for free?) the seemingly lawless world of the internet comes at a cost. The smartphone has changed the way we take photos and videos because of its portability. Never before have we been so photographed, and so accustomed to viewing potentially hundreds of pictures a day through apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
 
While being able to take pictures of beautiful sunsets and filter potentially unflattering photos online is good, this relentless access to videos has a darker side to it. There has been a recent surge in what is termed as “revenge porn”, usually entailing an angry or hurt ex-partner sharing intimate photos of a girlfriend or boyfriend with friends, family, or even posting it completely publicly. This is an attempt to shame and embarrass the victim.
 
One of the effects that the internet has had on us is that we are undoubtedly less fazed by porn. Most people have accidentally stumbled across it online, or actively searched for it. I think this has a direct correlation to people feeling it is okay to share someone’s nudes or intimate photos online. They might think it isn’t a big deal, they sent it in the first place, they deserve or expect to be hurt. But sharing someone’s nudes which were meant to be private is violating their privacy and is soon to become a criminal offence in Ireland.
 
The seriousness of revenge porn is not to be underestimated. It can damage a person’s reputation, career and their trust in people. While there are many arguments that people shouldn’t share nudes in the first place in case they get circulated, people still have to right to privacy and respect. If you sent a naked photo to someone in the post, you wouldn’t expect photocopies of it to be hung up around your college. But because it is the online world, and people can hide behind anonymous accounts, they feel they are untouchable.
 
Thankfully, this is coming to an end. Authorities across the world are working on shutting down revenge porn sites, where users are invited to anonymously post naked photos of their exes, and others can comment nasty things underneath it. There have been many high profile cases of revenge porn recently, such as the US Marine Corps having a private Facebook group, dedicated to taking secret nude photos of female soldiers, and sharing and commenting on them. According the Inquirer.net, two Marines have been demoted and more are under investigation.
 
Perhaps even more horrifyingly, a 15-year-old girl from Chicago was gang-raped, and this was all live-streamed on Facebook. A staggering 40 people watched and did not alert the authorities. According to The Huffington Post, arrests have been made, but the young girl was violated, not only privately, but publicly too, as one of the most horrible experiences of her life was exhibited on social media for all to see. While it is encouraging to see criminal prosecutions taking place, it will not undo the harm these perpetrators have inflicted upon these women.
 
Facebook Live, which allows users to view instant videos of unfiltered content, can be great to watch live news, sports or music. However, when does intervention need to occur? I believe that Facebook needs to regulate its content more stringently. I am all for freedom of speech, but when users are allowed to broadcast violent crimes, shouldn’t a line be drawn? Or will we just become more and more accustomed to privacy violations and violence, eventually becoming completely de-sensitised?
 
Frances Fitzgerald, the Minister for Justice here in Ireland, is taking steps to criminalise cyber-stalking and revenge porn in some much-needed reform. According to The Irish Times, the legislation is currently under review. Quoted in the article, The Law Reform Commission stated the proposed charges could be “the maximum penalties of a class A fine, currently a fine not exceeding €5,000, and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment; and on conviction on indictment an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years’ imprisonment.”
 
However, I do think more caution needs to be taken by young people nowadays when sharing explicit photos. Relationships can change, and people can betray your trust. Sending out nudes left right and centre is a recipe for disaster. I am not blaming the victims of revenge porn, but until concrete legislation is put in place, perhaps it is best to be a bit wiser about sharing intimate photos.