Revenge porn won’t end without societal change

04 Apr

TopSecret1It’s been a while since I’ve written about porn, but some news happened the other day that I just couldn’t pass up. The government of Florida is in the process of passing a law that will prohibit “revenge porn.” It’s not a sub-genre I was familiar with, although it turns out the concept is probably readily understood by anyone who has spent time online.

Revenge porn happens when someone, usually a male, posts nude or sexual pictures or videos of an ex- on the net without that person’s permission. The sentiment is fairly easy to understand, although that doesn’t make it excusable – one party to a relationship is angry at another, so they seek to hurt, shame or sometimes even extort that person by publicly sharing what is otherwise private imagery.

A bunch of sites have sprung up to cater to such people, including, and (the first two look to be down and that last one is definitely not safe for work), with some getting hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. Some of them make good advertising money, while others supplement their revenue stream by charging victims a fee to remove their photos. Some also go a step further by including personal information about the people in the photos, such as their email addresses or links to their Facebook profiles.

It’s about as slimy as the internet gets. While the knee-jerk reaction for free speech, anonymity and general internet proponents is to bristle against the sorts of laws that Florida is proposing, this is the sort of thing that just doesn’t seem defensible.

One of the emergent revenge porn kingpins is Hunter Moore, who Rolling Stone called “the most hated man on the internet” in a feature last year. The story depicted Moore – who started and then sold, ironically to an anti-bullying website – as an amoral entrepreneur looking to make a buck in any way possible, at best, to a sociopath who doesn’t give a second thought about who he hurts, at worst. When confronted by an angry mother on the Dr. Drew show, for example, he callously said, “I’m sorry that your daughter was ‘cyber-raped,’ but, I mean, now she’s educated on technology.”

Moore is understandably despised. He’s been banned by Facebook and PayPal and even the vigilantes of Anonymous have tried to hack him. He’s obviously one of the baddest of bad actors on the internet.

As despicable as his attitude and revenge porn in general is, there is a smidgen of truth to the defense that Moore and others typically use when they are confronted about what they do, which is why they’ve attracted some free speech supporters. These revenge porn purveyors, after all, aren’t the ones taking the photos, they’re just capitalizing on them.

There are obviously many cases where such photos and videos are taken without the subject’s knowledge or permission, but there are also many situations in which they are fully aware of what’s going on, even if they haven’t thought through how such imagery might be used. To some degree, they do have to own up to their mistakes, although the cost of doing so in this case is often very high.

In the bigger scheme of things, it’s no so much that the bad actors are proclaiming safe harbour innocence that’s important, but more that the supply side of the content exists for one reason or another. The reason that some people do take these photos, I think, says a lot about our societal values.

When I was a kid in grade school, I quickly learned the value of keeping quiet. If I had a secret, surely the best way to get it widely disseminated was to tell someone, even a trusted someone. It was a lesson that had to be learned the hard way, after being the victim of several betrayals.

There is, unfortunately, something very human about the need or desire to share that which we are not supposed to, which is why secrets tend to have a way of becoming known.

Nude photos and videos are the natural evolution of this, and they’re subject to the same rules. Many people create them and share them precisely because they sort of know they’re not supposed to. That makes preventing the likes of revenge porn very difficult, despite the best efforts of laws and education from parents and other authorities. Governments such as Florida’s will inevitably make it harder to disseminate such materials, but they won’t make it go away because they’re not addressing that underlying part of human nature – or societal nature, at the very least.

Practically speaking, the only real way to be sure that nude photos of yourself never make it onto the internet is to never take them in the first place. That’s going to be the case until society evolves into not caring about such things, if it ever does, at which point everyone will have nudes of themselves circulating online. Maybe we’d all be better off in such a world?


Posted by on April 4, 2013 in sex


2 responses to “Revenge porn won’t end without societal change

  1. Jean-François Mezei

    April 4, 2013 at 12:24 am

    This is nothing new. The Canadian TV programme “Traders” had an episode where the banker’s naked images (played by Sonja Smits) get posted on the internet without her kowledge and all Bay Street bankers see it and they all giggle at her when they see her.

    She responds during some conference by starting her presentation with a slide of that picture and says “now that you’ve all seen it, lets move on to business”.

    In other words, once people realise that this porn doesn’t offend the person featured in the images, it ceases to be amusing and goes away.

    Extortion (asking money for removal of image) is very different and that should be illegal.

  2. Adrian

    April 4, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Well, people have a right to privacy that is in conflict with the right to ‘free speech/expression’ used as a defence by these websites. Really, in the internet age there are two options. One: Privacy becomes better protected, with people having rights to control their images and creations (similar to the nude pics, but say a poem or letter you wrote for the ex), making posting such things without permission illegal. OR, as you mentioned in your article, we need to get to a point where caring about such things just isn’t the case, where privacy as a value changes dramatically to the point where it doesn’t exist how we understand it today. The first option, to me, makes the most sense, and is the most sensible. Privacy is important, and while the best step to these problems is to be careful about what you do, it is repressive and destructive to suggest that everyone, at all times, needs to have their guard up. So to keep people from getting into vigilante/revenge cycles where one breach of privacy leads to others, legislation (preferably constitutional reforms) is one of the better options. Not legislation to punish people who betray each others’ trusts, but definitely to restrict their ability to use the internet to accomplish those betrayals and make them much larger and more completely public than has ever been possible.

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