How would you
feel if somebody posts intimate photos of you online? What if an ex-partner
following a separation, your phone got hacked, or so-called friends posted
them? In most cases it is the first one, an ex-partner. In this modern digital
age, it is very common for partners to send each other revealing photos of one
another, generally called sexting, with the intention they will be only for the
eyes of the receiver. Uploading sexually explicit material to humiliate and
intimidate the subject, who has broken off the relationship via any online social
networking, has become one of the
scariest, most hurtful, embarrassing and common violations of personal privacy on
the Internet known as revenge porn (Wikipedia). There have been many incidents
of an angry ex-boyfriend trying to expose and embarrass his ex-girlfriend by
posting online nude photos or videos of her that were sent during their
relationship. This has started being very frequent in the few past years. Until recently there were no social media platforms
that could prevent any sexually explicit contents being posted, or policies taking
them down immediately before causing long-term effects for the victim. Maybe
that is about to change very soon, since social media giant Facebook is proposing
a new method to prevent revenge porn on social media.

     On November 7th, 2017
TechCrunch published an article called “Facebook’s testing a new method to
prevent revenge porn that requires uploading your nudes”. The first thing
mentioned in the reading is Facebook’s technology tests in partnership with
Australian government agency e-Safety, which tries to prevent people from
sharing intimate images without consent (Dickey). According to the eSafety
office, Australia is one of the countries with high rates of revenge porn on
social media. 1 in 5 Australians experiences compromising content posted online
without their knowledge (Molina). However, now Australia is the first country
where Facebook will test the new invention. All Australian Facebook users who
feel threatened about possibly being exposed on the social media can submit a
form on the eSafety agency’s Web site. They will send the picture-video
materials they are concerned about to themselves via Facebook Messenger. The
organization office will notify Facebook that the disturbing data has been sent.

The team responsible for that is going to review it using a “hashing system” which
will recognize the picture-video materials in the future using artificial
intelligence if there is a try to upload them. This makes the need for storing
any of the material on Facebook’s servers unnecessary because only the link of
the image or video is going to be saved (Dickey).

     Revenge porn on social media has affected
many people’s lives not only in Australia but also worldwide. This Facebook tool
and the process that is planned to stop such harm to its users might be what is
needed to tie the hands of all people who seek social networking revenge. If
Facebook succeeds, there would be no more privacy violations, harm, nor embarrassment
on Facebook, and people who fear intimate photos going everywhere on the social
platform could finally relax. Still, there is a double-edged sword regarding the way that the Facebook tool will work
and protect all its users who feel threatened by intimate photos being posted
on social media. Theoretically speaking, it may have some advantages, but it
could also have the ability to harm people who don’t physically possess the
content they fear, which is a great disadvantage. For instance, sometimes
people may be photographed or recorded
secretly by ex-partners, who violate one of the 3 key aspects of privacy and more specifically the control of
information about oneself, then post the material on Facebook for revenge. If
this is the case, then does that mean Facebook cannot shield these users? It is clearly not defined how Facebook would handle
such cases, which is very disturbing and contradicting with the main idea of
the tool protecting vulnerable users. The
stakeholders affected by this issue are Facebook users who are potential
victims of revenge porn, the company itself, countries using Facebook, all
social media platforms, and law enforcement.

     Now, looking at Facebook’s new method of
handling the revenge porn issue on social media, it is clear Facebook users who
feel threatened and are likely to become targets of such revenge are the ones
mostly seeking measurements and protection. Statistics show 90% of the revenge
porn victims are women aged between 18-30, so this proves among the Facebook
users who fear the most for their social, occupational, or other important
areas of their lives are mainly females (Cyber Civil Rights). Yet Facebook has interest
in the development of a tool to help its users from being humiliated and
intimidated by sexually explicit material online. It would be rewarding for the
company because Facebook could boost their reputation as a trustworthy social
network with regards to privacy and gain users’ trust by demonstrating the
ability to protect them from this type of invasion of privacy online. 

     However,
thinking about the method Facebook is working on, and this becomes the major
tool used against revenge porn on the site (hypothetically speaking), victims
would have to upload the images they worry about to FB Messenger, which first
doesn’t seem fully secure and possess some chances of risk for the users. Even
though Facebook claims they are storing only the link, not the picture using
artificial intelligence and other photo-matching technologies, if somebody
tried to upload that same image it would have the same digital footprint or
hash value (Statt). How would people know their pictures don’t get stored
somewhere since they have to upload them? What if the database where their
pictures get stored is hacked? Since there is no clear policy about when and
how users’ information will be treated, there is
no informed consent. That just puts additional pressure and fear
on people of being exposed online. In other
words, installing this tool might be a step forward, but it is not very clear
how Facebook would make its users believe uploading their pictures to Messenger
is not risky. They need to prove the images wouldn’t be stored on the database,
because just assuring them is not going to convince anybody. As Facebook has
grown all around the world and revenge porn is a very sensitive topic globally,
being unable to balance against the serious, real-world harm that occurs online
very often might bring a number of problems and protests worldwide against
Facebook’s decision to implement such a tool that could appear to threaten
victims even more (Dickey).

     In addition to the risk there might be for
the potential victims of revenge porn, it looks like Facebook has many issues
in regards to the concept of people
self-reporting their photos, the effectiveness and the process itself. The company seems
to be asking users to think ahead and play it safe if they feel particularly
vulnerable in a relationship that becomes abusive over time or only after it’s
ended (Statt). This doesn’t totally make sense because most of the people don’t
just assume this could happen. As already mentioned, some victims don’t even
know of the existence of content that can compromise them. If Facebook can’t
help in cases like that, then this makes the development of a tool useless and
not effective. Also, before an image is hashed, someone at Facebook would have
to go through the content and more likely look at these intimate photos. This
process is absolutely an invasion of privacy towards people. Everyday users
might think uploading directly to Messenger is the equivalent of posting
revenge porn against themselves (Statt).

     While in many countries there are either
uncertain or no laws on revenge porn online and countries fail to protect their
citizens, some social media sites are taking matters into their own hands like
Facebook. However, that doesn’t mean they are successful. The new tool Facebook
is testing could prove the observed flaws could bring consequences like trust
issues not only for Facebook, but also to all social media companies. Being unable
to protect the users from harm puts a dark spot on social media in general
because if a giant company like Facebook can’t prevent harm online, what could
happen with other smaller companies and their users?

     Thinking about the fact “laws banning
revenge pornography have been slow to emerge” or are uncertain, social media
can’t be fully held accountable for revenge porn going viral (Wikipedia). Still,
there are some countries that criminalize revenge porn. The first country that made
copying, reproducing, sharing or exhibiting sexually explicit images or videos
over the Internet without the written consent of the individual illegal is
Philippines (Wikipedia). This was followed by South Australia in 2016, the bill
made it illegal to distribute or threaten to distribute invasive nude
photographs. Some European countries also criminalized revenge porn, but
according to the United States, there is still no federal law within the
country that classifies the action as a crime. For now, there are 36 out of 50
states that have passed bills on privacy invasion like this. But as we study in
class, even the existent laws aren’t perfect (class slides, Day 6). Standards
and protections for victims vary across the state. It is obvious in most of the
cases the victims are usually the ones taking the photos, but in California,
the law protects victims only if somebody else took their photo and posted it. From
recent events it looks like the state of Minnesota also has some uncertainty in
its revenge porn law that went into effect in 2016. That may soon be struck
down, because the Court of Appeals was convinced the Minnesota’s criminal defamation
law was unconstitutional and violated the 1st
Amendment, the free speech protection (Arechigo & Stokka).

     Revenge porn online is definitely a form
of harassment that has harmed and destroyed lives of many around the world, so there
should be something done about it. One option that could possibly help Facebook
address the issue with revenge porn is a tool that doesn’t require potential
victims to fill out a form first and then upload the content they fear could
possibly go viral. Artificial intelligence and other photo-matching
technologies could be developed in a way to determine sexually explicit images
or video before being uploaded to Facebook. The hash system would catch the
image in place and upload the link to the system in order to determine if this
is sexually explicit material or not. The only disadvantage I see here as an IT
person is the chance of tricking the system and not being able to match the
inappropriateness of the content, which makes this action risky for the victims
and costs Facebook’s reputation as a trustworthy company in terms of users’ security
and capability to protect them because their services have potential flaws.

This action is more likely prohibited.

     The second alternative that could prevent
revenge porn on social media and help Facebook in its battle against it is for every
country to criminalize revenge porn and develop strong, reliable, national
laws. Instead of fully relying on technology and waiting only for Facebook to
do something about it, legislation could be passed as revenge porn is just
another form of harassment, and it is damaging somebody’s reputation with very
personal and private content without his/her consent.

      In
addition, third option is a development of international law on revenge porn
since Facebook is spread worldwide. This gives the advantage of punishment for
suspects from all around the world, as many people meet on social media, start a
relationship from distance and send revealing photos of one another. It could
thigh the control over the issue across borders. That way it will be treated the
same everywhere and one mainframe will be set up based on an agreement between
the states in addition to the country’s law. The problem of the idea to
criminalize revenge porn in every country and develop an international law is
the chilling effect both of the options
have on online expression. Passing
laws on that might end up threatening free speech on social media because for
instance, to comply with the bill, many wouldn’t be able to re-post images
taken from other people’s posts. This is clearly allowed, but if that user
didn’t have consent from the individual on that picture, this re-post would be considered
a violation. Streaming articles or links to movie trailers would also be prohibited.

Those two ideas for laws are obligatory, but until the threat on free speech
online is unresolved they are prohibited too.

     Unfortunately, there is no potential solution
I can provide Facebook on preventing revenge porn on social media. Based on my
analysis, Facebook’s method is not a good solution either. What I can only do
is to hope this issue won’t be left unsolved. Contributing to it not being
solved and spreading at full speed is people’s silence and fear to act. When I
say people, I don’t only mean victims, but persons who care about social media
being a better place online. If people don’t approve of Facebook’s method
towards revenge porn, or simply don’t agree with something towards it, the best
thing they can do is to stick together and speak up for better solutions,
policies and legal support. That way victims will know that there is a chance
for changes, otherwise, everything would stay the same. Revenge porn’s purpose
is exactly that: to humiliate and shame somebody, so he can keep quiet. As Napoléon
Bonaparte ones said, “The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of
bad people, but because of the silence of good people”.

     As somebody who never gives up, it seems
to me women should gather together to form women organizations all over the
world that help victims since 90% of them are females (Cyber Civil Rights). They
could be able to work towards speaking up for victims’ rights and show that
there is support out there for those who might feel isolated. A potential independent
movement of activism could spread around the world and lend a hand to many who
want to stand up for themselves but don’t have the courage. That will give hope
and empower the women victims to speak about what it’s to know that your
pictures are out there every day, but they still can be successful. It’s very
naïve to believe an organization could possibly regulate people’s behavior
online, but what it would do is to make social media companies and authorities aware
of the seriousness of the issue and get the needed attention to their problem.

I think one of the reasons why women are so powerful is because of their
ability to convince. Their power can be used in speaking sessions to young
people who are growing in a digital world and tell them about the consequences
of such actions. If young people understand the seriousness of the problem and
accept it as a cause to stand against it, then we might be able to say we are
successful and halfway through to the final point of getting revenge porn away
from social media.  

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