Social Media

Revenge porn is the well-publicised tip of the iceberg

6887692251_dc74758fb1_oRevenge porn is back in the news after reports that the first woman to be convicted of the offence, Paige Mitchell, has been spared a jail term. Stigma following the publication of intimate images online can cause harm and distress way beyond some initial embarrassment, however.

The growing number of explicit images being shared online, specifically without the subject’s consent, led to the introduction of a new law earlier this year. This law, part of a wider raft of criminal legislation, makes it illegal to share or disclose a “private sexual photograph or film” without the consent of the person depicted and with the intent to cause them distress.

The photographs or videos may have been taken or recorded with consent, possibly during a relationship as was the case with Ms Mitchell, but it is the transition from private to public which is a key determining factor, together with the intention to cause distress.  In the present case, the prosecutor highlighted the effect on the victim as being, “invasive, humiliating and distressing” and which left the victim feeling “violated”.

In the case of Mitchell, four photos were posted on Facebook, but removed 30 minutes later when her mother told her it was against the law.  Even in such a short period of time, distress and damage can be caused and significant.

As well as potential criminal prosecution, of which there have been around a dozen – all against men, until now – there is the potential for civil action under a variety of causes, including Human Rights legislation, the common law rights to privacy and the Protection from Harassment Act.  Such claims can be expensive and, as with many sexually related offences, are difficult to prove.

#Selfie culture

The taking and sharing of photographs has been exacerbated by social media and the vast improvements in smartphone and camera technology.  This has impacted directly on a new generation of egotists (and exhibitionists) who have made use of social media and online platforms including Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube to boost their fame and followers.  It is the culture towards sharing (and oversharing) that has blurred the lines between what is and is not acceptable, both morally and, now, legally.

The present law only takes into account private images which are shared without consent and where the sharing is intended to cause distress.  It does not take into consideration the sharing of images anonymously or where the victim is unaware that their image has been shared.  There are a growing number of dating apps and online services, including the now infamous Ashley Madison site, which encourage the sharing of photos and anonymity. Indeed, generations that have grown up with Facebook are familiar and at ease with tagging photos, sometimes without the subject’s consent or even knowledge.  How these will be dealt with in future by the courts is yet to be seen, but the present position is likely to mean they are exempt from the ‘revenge porn’ laws.

Minimising risk

If photos are shared online, as well as causing distress and embarrassment, there may be an additional impact on the victim’s life.  Publicity surrounding revenge porn cases has spread far and wide, in mainstream and tabloid newspapers.  Although this should slow down over time, the indelible footnote on an individual’s life can have long-lasting and potentially damaging consequences.

The damage can also extend to the victim’s (and the protagonist’s) family and, quite possibly, employer.  Organisations may not be able to take steps to prevent the distribution of intimate images of employees, but they can take steps to educate and warn employees of the inherent risk in sharing images online, whether in public or private, and of making the most of privacy settings.

A sensible and practical approach to social media use is essential in any organisation and must be carefully balanced against both risk and reward.  Revenge porn is just another unfortunate example of what can go wrong, but one which organisations must be alert to and prepared for.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/75684270@N08/6887692251″>Like peeling an orange</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Revenge porn is the well-publicised tip of the iceberg

  1. Pingback: ‘Sexting’ schoolkids jeopardise future employment opportunities | Kevin Poulter

  2. Pingback: Safer internet? Basic steps to protect yourself online #SID2016 | Kevin Poulter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s