Tuesday, October 15, 2013

when embarrassing pictures go viral

In his comment on the arousal is not the crime post, Ethan included a link to a Salon article by a young woman who tells what it was like when a photo of her went viral.

Not just any photo. An embarrassing photo.

On Facebook, she had posted a photo of herself dressed as the sexy Lara Croft for Halloween. Unfortunately, she had neglected to check her Facebook privacy settings, leaving her photo open to the public. Someone saw the photo, re-posted it and then the re-postings snowballed. Cruel comments were posted wherever the photo was posted. And it was posted everywhere, it seemed.

So I laughed it all off at first — but then, I read the comments. 
“What a waste of space,” read one. Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.” Yet another said I should just kill myself “and spare everyone’s eyes.” Hundreds of hateful messages, most of them saying that I was a worthless human being and shaming me for having the audacity to go in public dressed as a sexy video game character. How dare I dress up and have a good time! 
We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.
LisaMoore commented after Ethan posted his link:
The Salon article is interesting and I showed it to my kids to reinforce not to put anything online that could be embarrassing. It is not the same as child porn pictures though. She was an adult.
True, the Lara Croft photo is not the same as child porn but there are similarities worth noting. She lost control of an image of herself, an image that she did not want the world to see. 

This must be a tiny slice of what it feels like to know that strangers on the internet are seeing, sharing, downloading photos of oneself in a sexual situation. For children, who were coerced or outright forced into sexual situations, to learn that there are photos of those experiences out there...I can't imagine what that must feel like. Embarrassment and humiliation must be the least of it.

This young woman, though, took action.

I called my friend Terri Jean, a photographer. She reminded me that I was beautiful, and told me I would get through this. And then, like any kick-ass heroines, we came up with a plan. [My emphasis.]
The photo was of her and she wanted as much control over it as she could get. She used her paralegal training and experience to fight back. She began contacting people who had shared it on Facebook and asked them to take down the post. Most of them were surprised to hear from her.
And of course, they hadn’t really thought of me as a person. Why should they? These images are throwaways, little bursts of amusement to get through a long workday. You look, you chuckle, you get some ridicule off your chest and move on to the next source of distraction. No one thought about the possibility that I might read those words. Far less, that I would talk back. 
Next, I began the monumental task of sending out copyright violation notices to the websites hosting the image — I would have to issue hundreds of them. My work as a paralegal had given me some training in this regard, but it was tedious, like pulling weeds out of the planet’s largest garden. I had to seek out each instance of the image and sift around until I could find contact information. 
No wonder this woman chose Lara Croft for her Halloween costume! She and Lara are both determined, resourceful, and smart.

The story for child pornography images is different. The law does not allow people to fight back the way this young woman did. Parents who want to remove images of their children from the Internet or children, now adults, who want to track down their own images--what can they do? 

If families go looking for child porn images, even with the purpose of fighting back the way this young woman did, they are likely to end up in trouble with the law. If an adult finds the pornographic image of herself as a child, she will herself commit the crime of possessing it.

Because the images are illegal, the websites on which they are available are driven far underground, making the job of tracking much more difficult.

If you are thinking--But the woman in the Lara Croft costume wasn't able to remove the images from the internet. She lost the fight!--I cannot argue with that. There is no way for her to remove all the images of her from the Internet. Ultimately, she did lose but not without putting up a fight, and not without making some of her tormentors aware of what they were doing. Being able to fight back felt good.

The children in child porn images never have the opportunity to fight back. Law enforcement is not trying to remove the images from the internet. No one is trying to confront those who re-posted the images to ask, "Why are you posting pictures of me?" The children are left with the possibility of receiving court-ordered restitution payments with which they can afford therapy. 

Is therapy the best we can do? What if fighting back would do more good than therapy or if it would make therapy a little less necessary? 

Reading this woman's story makes me see how powerful she felt when she found a way to fight back.

And while my self-confidence took a large blow from the experience, I’m getting over it. My photographer friend Terri did a photo shoot with me after it all went down. She’s a retro pinup photographer, and I’ve been posing for her for a while now, but that particular shoot felt great. Just to be seen a little bit more as I wanted to be.
But I refuse to disappear. I still go jogging in public. I don’t hide my flabby arms or chubby ankles for fear of offending someone else’s delicate sensibilities. I dress in a way that makes me happy with myself. And this Halloween, I’m thinking of reprising my role as Lara Croft just to give all the haters the middle finger.
Criminalizing child porn denies its victims the chance to fight back. Instead, they are in limbo, waiting for law enforcement to punish the people who downloaded the images. 

Waiting for someone else to do something. They aren't even waiting for someone to save them because that's not going to happen. They are stuck waiting for something to happen which doesn't affect them much at all. Arresting people for possession doesn't rid the Internet of the images, nor does it give the child (or family) any control over, well, anything.

They are relegated to the role of victim, a role some refuse to let them abandon. Tom Joad is not the only commenter to think once a victim, always a victim:
 I don't care if the image is two days old or twenty years old...that little child was still the victim of a terrible crime and continue to be a victim!!!
Some people seem to like the idea that children in child porn images will never be able to recover from the experience. Those children are not all alike. They each have their own way of recovering from bad experiences. Some of them would certainly prefer to be able to take action.

Do I really want child porn images popping up on my Facebook news feed? Certainly not. Society has a very strong taboo on sex with children and anyone who dared to post something like that would immediately come under fire from those who know how wrong it is. Wouldn't you protest? Wouldn't you demand that your Facebook friend remove the image? Wouldn't you do something to help any child you might recognize in the images? 

I hope it would work like that, though perhaps I am wrong and the world would come to accept the images. Would you? Freedom poses difficult problems. 

Would decriminalizing child porn create more viewers? I don't know. There seems to be no shortage of new viewers even though it is illegal now. Again, freedom poses difficult problems.

The thought of victims prevented from fighting back is painful. 

Would every family or child want to do what this woman did? Probably not. But for those who have a heart for the battle and who want to feel the power surge that comes with fighting back, why make it impossible for them to do that?

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