Revenge porn, #Twitterpurge, etc.

Posted by Sappho on July 24th, 2014 filed in Computers, Sexuality

Mary Adkins, at Slate, writes, in response to the hijacking of a #Twitterpurge hash tag for “revenge porn,” or nonconsensual posting of nude photos of private individuals to humiliate them:

As an attorney who helps clients remove revenge porn from the Internet, I recently got a call from a mother whose daughter had been contacted by a reporter for an interview. The 22-year-old learned from the reporter that four nude selfies of her had been featured on a site specifically for this kind of thing for nearly eight months and accumulated over 30,000 views. They had been posted with her full name, the name of the town where she lived, and with links to her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Above all of this information was a screed calling her a “cunt” and a “whore” and a “sick, suicidal bitch.”

It took me two days and about six hours to get the photos down. First, I had to register the images with the U.S. Copyright Office for $35. Why? Because that was the only clear law the person who posted the photos was actually violating. Because they were selfies, my client’s daughter owned the photos—she took them—and so by posting them, her ex had violated her copyright. Not her body, not her autonomy, not her freedom to live in the world without having been exposed unwillingly to 30,000 strangers, but her copyright. And if they hadn’t been selfies? Well, she likely would have been out of luck. (For anyone whose selfies were posted without consent under the “twitter purge,” you can also send a takedown notice to Twitter.)

So, there are two possibilities about this 22-year-old’s ex:

  1. He doesn’t think she’s sick and suicidal, but, being angry at her now, he went and posted a nude photo of her with the lie that she’s a “sick, suicidal bitch,” so that he can persuade the world that she is.
  2. He does think that she’s sick and suicidal, and he thinks it’s a great idea to post a nude photo, with full identifying information and a screed denouncing her, of a woman that he thinks is already prone to suicide.

Neither of these possibilities, to put it mildly, makes him look good.

And now for the thing that bugs the heck out of me, whenever “revenge porn” comes up for discussion. There’s an article at the Guardian titled Twitter trend based on The Purge films exposes horror of revenge porn, that relates how the #Twitterpurge hashtag (originally about a movie) got hijacked by people posting naked photos of their exes, and arguing that there should be a law against revenge porn. (My husband linked the article on Facebook, and it’s how I learned about this particular Twitter discussion.)

Since it’s the Guardian, there’s also a long comment thread. I read the comments, I guess generally a mistake. They fall into several categories. Some of them express horror that this is a thing. Others reassure readers that it’s been hyped in the Guardian article, that only a few people posted the photos, and far more people using the #Twitterpurge tag were denouncing revenge porn than having anything to do with it. A few worry that laws to ban this awful thing could prove to be a solution worse than the problem. All of these reactions I can understand. Even the last; though there’s no reason freedom of speech has to include a blanket right to publicize private nude photos (and it doesn’t include such a blanket right even now, given that, as Adkins explains, if the photo is a selfie you can still go the copyright route to exert control over it), it’s still true that laws to prevent a bad use of photos, if overly broadly written, can wind up banning speech that you’d want to preserve.

The thing I will never understand, though, is the thing that turns up over and over and over again in these threads. It’s remarks like, “Don’t take nude photos of yourself. Duh.” It’s having one person after another say that anyone who shares a nude photo with his or her lover is a reckless exhibitionist. It’s having one man in the thread say that he’d tell his daughters that anything you put out on the Internet can be put out anywhere else.

I get why you might not want your 22-year-old daughter to have sex, in the first place, with the guy who would later plaster the nude photo that she shared with him privately to a public web site, along with a screed calling her a “cunt” and a “whore” and a “sick, suicidal bitch.” I will never get why you’d advise her that it’s her own damn fault for trusting the guy in the first place. And I will never get why you’d suggest that sharing the photo privately with the one particular guy who sees every part of that naked body, and knows just what she looks and sounds like at the point of orgasm, is equivalent to sharing it with the Internet.

Maybe sharing nude selfies with your significant other isn’t your thing. It’s never been mine. But isn’t calling it “reckless exhibitionism” that’s morally equivalent to personally putting the photo out on the Internet something like saying that, if I start a small software company, and share my source code with a programmer that I hire to work on my project, it was my own stupid fault and I haven’t been the least bit betrayed if that programmer, angry when I have to lay him off, then posts my source code to a warez site with a screed denouncing me and inviting people to crack my code?

3 Responses to “Revenge porn, #Twitterpurge, etc.”

  1. Marian Neudel Says:

    Interesting legal angle: in community property states that also recognize common law marriage (I think there are a couple), if your SO takes nude pictures of you, do you own a share in his copyright, so that you can sue anybody other than him who publishes the pictures? This requires further research.

  2. Sappho Says:

    Oh, I hope so! I’d love to see one of the sites that hosts this stuff nailed with that one.

  3. Sappho Says:

    Could also apply to community property states that don’t recognize common law marriage, in the narrow case where someone’s passed on nude photos of an ex-spouse that were taken while they were married.