Revenge Porn: The “Wild West” of the Internet

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United Kingdom — As far as internet crime goes, what is your biggest fear? Is it having your email hacked? Perhaps the idea of your financial data being stolen and your bank account drained scares you. What about the thought of your identity being used to obtain credit on the other side of the world? Or could it be having explicit pictures of yourself leaked and circulated across the World Wide Web?

By:  Michaela Whitton

This article first appeared at ANTIMEDIA.

In the heat of the moment and within the privacy of a relationship, couples may choose to take and share photos with each other. If the relationship ends, there should be no fear of revenge or abuse.

However, a disturbing trend in online harassment known as non-consensual porn (NCP), or “revenge porn,” has seen a rise in the dissemination of intimate photos across the Web. It is becoming an increasingly distressing problem.

Not restricted to couples, the cruel phenomena has claimed victims as young as 11 and seen waves ofleaked celebrity images after their accounts were hacked.

In the U.K., revenge porn is legally described as the distribution of“photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.”

As part of a Channel 4 documentaryon the issue, British journalist Anna Richardson disguised herself as an angry ex-partner and uploaded photos of herself to one of a growing number of websites dedicated to the online humiliation of victims.

Within days, Richardson’s photos were viewed over 100,000 times and had attracted a vile torrent of hatred and misogynistic comments. “I would destroy this bitch and treat her like the slut bag she is,” reads one. “Spit in her mouth and choke her while throat f–king,” says another.

The increased use of technology, mainly smartphones, has led to various stages of a revenge porn cycle. Firstly, spurned lovers (usually men) upload the sexually explicit and private pictures of women who have upset them to social media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Reddit.

Because images spread like wildfire once placed online, it is impossible to control where they end up — with many of the compromising images going on to be uploaded to specific revenge porn websites.

Richardson described the websites’ message boards as the “Wild West” of the internet and pointed to anonymous commenters who discuss the rape and murder of women while trading deeply personal information, including victims’ addresses, their daily routines, workplaces, and even the names of schools their children attend.

In June, Google acknowledged the emotionally damaging effects of NCP with the introduction of a form allowing victims to request the removal of nude and sexual images from search results. In the U.S., 23 states have passed bills criminalising revenge porn, and in October 2014, the U.K. government announced that those maliciously distributing sexually explicit images of former partners would be prosecuted and could face up to two years imprisonment.

In spite of the wide-ranging criminalization of the cruel practice, victims not only have to live with irreparable emotional damage and humiliation, but also suffer from a long-term search engine crisis. Even if search results are temporarily cleaned up and offenders are prosecuted, absolutely anyone is capable of taking screenshots or re-posting images, which can re-materialise at any point.

Despite Google’s policies and promises, search engines are like cockroaches — they outlast everything.

This article first appeared at ANTIMEDIA.