The real social media photo worry of the week
Naturally! Doesn’t everyone sending a photo to grandma, of their 2 year old playing on the beach this Christmas season, want it to self-destruct in 10 seconds? Quick, get your specs grandma – oops too late.
Predictably, both Snapchat and Facebook deny any inappropriate intent in designing the app. Snapchat’s designer, Evan Spiegel, downplayed the ‘nudes’ phenomenon saying that a few seconds of looking at a picture is unlikely to get anyone going. In fact, he even added in a clever hack to the app, so that it actually alerts the user when a recipient takes a screenshot of one of their snaps. The very act that such a ‘safety net’ is needed should set our alarm bells ringing. But what safety does it actually provide? If a teen girl sends a nude picture to someone, and then receives an alert of a screenshot, what do Facebook (or Snaphat) think she will do? Tell someone?
Can you picture it? (pun intended)“Uh mum, I just sent a nude pic and …”
Clearly, Facebook thinks we have no clue about technology. Or perhaps they have no idea about the human psyche. The most likely explanation, though - as long as it makes them money, they don’t care.
Even with cyber-bullying well established in public discourse, Social Media rarely acknowledges the link with sexual communication or ‘sexting’.
The term ‘sexting’ now represents a range of activities. These may be motivated by sexual pleasure, but are often coercive, and linked to harassment, bullying, wider sexual pressures to perform, even violence.
Despite the media hype surrounding ‘sexting’ laws and the panic about pedophiles, a qualitative study of young people and ‘sexting’ indicates that the primary technology-related threat is not ‘stranger danger’, but technology-mediated sexual pressure from peers.
And it is a genuine risk - A 2012 study found that ‘Sexting, rather than functioning as an alternative to ‘real world’ sexual risk behavior, appears to be part of a cluster of risky sexual behaviors among adolescents.’
Yet, there is still an opinion that sending ‘nudes’, from behind the safety of a screen, allows young girls to express their sexuality. It apparently keeps a girl safe from groping or rape, because she cannot be physically ‘reached’, while in the privacy of her bedroom. How myopic.
The costs are real and destructive.
Kids Helpline recently stated that, ‘In a three-month period, around 500 counselling sessions were offered to kids who called with sexting-related concerns’.
Given how many girls I have personally counselled, I am not surprised. The inevitable teenage break up inflicts the sudden realization that an ex possesses one’s naked image on his phone. (Hell hath no fury and all that…)
Hence, the once consensual photo leads to a psychological torture, when the sender begins to wonder whether her naked ‘selfie’ is currently parading around the simulated public square. (Ask any teen what she thinks about the possibility of her naked image randomly appearing on the screen, during a mid week school assembly.)
When her image becomes communal, the ensuing sexual bullying and recurrent psychological rape is unquestionable. Other girls brand her a ‘slut’ and blame her for not doing enough to prevent the image from popping up.
Many boys assume her body, like her image, to be public property and do to her as they enjoy or see fit. The resulting trauma is similar to that of a sexual assault survivor, with symptoms including anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours.
These distraught girls often resort to changing schools, only to find their naked images following them like a dark shadow. And so the inescapable cycle continues.
Of course, in an ideal world naked images, especially not those of minors, would not be forwarded, stored or used without consent. This is not an ideal world.
When will we learn that no app – Not Instagram, not Snapchat, not even the newly awaited Facebook app - can make nonconsensual photo sharing impossible? And there is nothing we can do about it.
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