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The Dangers of Sexting

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Have you ever sent or received an illicit text message or picture? Or do you know someone who has regretted sending a SnapChat or two? Well maybe you should think twice, especially if you are under 18.

A Freedom of Information request by the charity revealed that the number of children reported to North Wales Police for so-called ‘sexting’ rose considerably between 2013 and 2015. In the majority of cases obtained by the charity, the children were under 15. The issue is becoming more prevalent with more accessible and cheaper technology. In 2013, just two children were reported for distributing indecent images. This increased to four in 2014, before exploding to 28 suspected offences reported to the police in 2015.

When looking at such statistics it is important to be aware that this is just one police service, a freedom of information request by this paper can compare the number of reported cases, of sexting under the age of 18, to Gwent Police for 2013 to 2015. Over the years we have been provided figures for, 1st April 2013 – 31st March 2015, figures have also increased, from 2 (1st April 2013 – 31st March 2014), to 25 (1st April 2014 – 31st March 2015).

Although the trend is worrying, the ability to save and distribute such images is more worrying. The Malicious Communications Act, and Protection from Harassment Act have been used previously to protect individuals, yet the government has felt it necessary to make revenge porn a specific offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act due to a worrying trend of publication.

Many indecent images are sent via SnapChat with the view that they cannot be saved, this has provided a false sense of security with apps such as SnapSave being able to record a video or image without the sender knowing. If you have the technical know how you can also extract an image by changing the orientation of your phone whilst viewing the snap. This is because the phone saves and resizes the image to fit the new orientation. This is also how law enforcement may be able to extract maliciously sent images.

It may seem obvious that sexting through the likes of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are more permanent forms of such messages but some still choose to use them through assumed names in order to obtain adult work. The problem with this is that images may be saved or downloaded by individuals to redistribute, or even bribe the subjects or their friends and family. From the information we have received, the majority of cases reported concern standard texting, although the number of cases reported concerning Facebook are significant.

It was only earlier this month that an Australian teen was banned from the use of social media after posting illicit pictures of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Sentencing Magistrate Maxine Baldwin is hoping that the exclusion will enable her to learn how to use social media “responsibly”, stating that this could be “It might be the best six months of your life. You won’t have to look at your phone every five minutes.” Unlike the UK revenge porn is not yet a specific crime in Australia.

The court was told that the illicit images were removed, and the young woman apologised after the victim phoned her to complain. The issue for the victim was that the damage had already been done, and the images, intended for her then partner, had already been openly published on the internet.

Egor Tsvetkov, a Russian Photographer, warned earlier this month of the commodification of our faces and online profiles, or the ‘end of anonymity’, as he put it. This may be seemingly unrelated to the article thus far, until I point out an app called FindFace, which uses facial recognition to search public profiles in order to find similar looking people.

Global Voices reports that just three days after Tsvetkov started a project, to try and find strangers he passed on his commute, was featured in the Russian press, users of Russian forum Dvach – similar to 4Chan – were inputting images of porn actresses into FindFace. When the users found a match on social media, the forum members then started contacting friends and family of the actresses to alert them to the dishonourable acts of their friend or loved one.

Vkontakte quickly took steps to shut down forum threads harassing the women identified. However, a representative for FindFace admitted in an interview with Tjournal that they are powerless to stop people abusing their app in this way but will “provide any information needed to find the users responsible for this harassment.”

Essentially this app will allow users to find anyone in an illicit photograph or video. The application does not filter out younger users, with many lying about their age to social media networks this function may be a mute point anyway.

 

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Christian James-Watkins

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