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Revenge Porn Part 1: Definition, Issues, And Examples

David HaroldAs my workload performing reputation management tasks for various clients grows, I’ve steadily come across an increasing number of cases that involve a term currently known as Revenge Porn. Although this issue would have bordered on something involving a fringe population just a few short years ago, it has now become more mainstream in character due to the availability of point & shoot photography and the ability to video record (complete with sound) at a moment’s notice. What could be considered a prank or experiment one moment could easily turn into a nightmare scenario for an individual who has moved on with his or her life; only to find to one’s horror that a nude image or worse yet – an actual video – has made its way to the Internet and is easily searchable.

Revenge Porn: Definition

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Revenge Porn is the act of uploading a lewd image or video to the Internet with the specific intent of harming an individual emotionally (usually through embarrassment, spite, and affecting one’s public perception in a negative way). To give you a plain example, let’s say you and your boyfriend/girlfriend produced a short film or took a few pictures at a time when your relationship was going well – with obvious intentions to limit those images or video clips to a specific number of viewers. The relationship eventually fell apart, and one person of the now defunct couple decides to take revenge on the other by making the content public. This is Revenge Porn.

The act itself is becoming extremely common as a method for one person to take his or her frustrations out on a former lover. Normally the actions taken by one party are a generic attempt at gaining the former partner’s attention, but it can quickly spiral out of control (in a matter of milliseconds) once it goes online due to how quickly content is now archived and shared upon being published on the Internet. In many cases, a jealous episode by the person doing the publishing of said content was originally aimed at convincing the other to consider some form of reconciliation, but the long-term ramifications of such an act go well beyond embarrassing someone for a day or two. A lewd image or video of someone can seriously affect his or her ability to gain future employment, retain current clients, and maintain scholastic status (not to mention the effect it can have on ongoing relationships with a present lover, friends, and family).

In short, it’s an emotionally violent act with serious repercussions.

The Business Of Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn Image 2Believe it or not – like it or not – there are a boatload of websites that dedicate their bandwidth to (and draw a significant amount of income from) the act of posting a non-flattering photo or video of someone without that person’s consent. If you do a quick search of the term Revenge Porn on Google News, you’ll see exactly what I’m referring to. Before we get into current legislative pressures that coincide with this recent phenomenon, I’d like to first outline why a website would find it profitable to post such content.

Website monetization is all about traffic. First you generate traffic through your content, then you seek to monetize it through ad placements, forums, community activity, and generating more visitors. Having an image or video clip go viral is one sure-fire way to get a lot of people flipping through your virtual pages as a website operator. Although many companies look for ways to provide helpful information to readers as a way to generate this traffic, there are others that actively seek out easier, less time-consuming methods for attracting online attention through explicit, graphic content that has a high potential of receiving a large amount of views. Needless to say, lewd media fits directly into this category.

The business side of Revenge Porn is two-pronged. The more obvious fork of this nightmarish beast is providing a platform for those seeking out revenge to publish media in an effort to negatively affect the person they are seeking to exploit. Once the content is live, it can be shared an infinite number of times, commented about via Social Media, and placed into a potential viral viewing session if enough people have an opinion about it. In most cases, the more people who possess a personal connection to the poster or the victim, the more chance there is for the content to be viewed in succession by interested parties. After all, a random photo or movie taken of an unknown person rarely has the legs (momentum-wise) to attract people’s attention for longer than a day or two. However, if the victim happens to be popular, well-known, involved in a number of social circles, loved, hated, admired, or in a high profile job, you can bet that there are going to be a lot of potential viewers lining up for the latest gossip and subsequent fallout associated with the published content. This is how websites that make a business out of posting unflattering content get viewers onto their site. Through aggressive Search Engine Optimization efforts, they can quickly make the person’s full name appear near the top of a major search engine when it is searched.

The second prong of the business is perhaps even more shady (and definitely more subtle) than the first. Once the ability to practically ruin one’s reputation is achieved by being able to get a search term, image and video to rank extremely high search engine-wise, the management of said website can then turn around and offer a sort of blackmail-style deal to the victim by removing the content for a fee. This happens more often than many would think, and is an integral part of Revenge Porn website monetization strategy. After all, what would it be worth for you or someone you know to get an explicit photo or movie removed from a website? A few hundred dollars? A few thousand? This is not at all lost on website owners who are all too happy to receive payment for removing sensitive files rather than the traditional method of publishing helpful content with long-term durability that will convert over time.

Unfortunately, even paying a fee and getting the media removed from a particular high-ranking website doesn’t always mark an end or provide some form of closure to the victim. In the time it takes him or her to get the content removed, it has usually been shared over and over by various acquaintances and even picked up by other websites; creating a horrific piggy-back effect that can be impossible to reverse.

In The News

Revenge Porn has found its way into a growing amount of headlines as it becomes widespread. Most of the news stories I’ve seen in recent weeks revolve around victim outrage, pending legislation, and news reports that describe in detail current legal tactics that are being employed by website owners to win court cases or avoid litigation outright.

Here’s a link to a December 13th, 2013 Daily Mail article that goes into detail about one website owner’s strategy of providing an outlet for disgruntled individuals looking to exact revenge. According to the article, the website owner (Ariella Alexander or Baltimore, Maryland – who apparently has been granting interviews to several high profile news outlets as of late) uses a generic disclaimer to ensure that she separates her business from the opinions and statements of those who send her naked or otherwise sensitive photographic files. The write-up goes on to point out that the Communications Decency Act, passed into law by the United States Congress in 1996, explicitly excludes website owners from liability when it concerns the views of third parties.

Another article published by the Los Angeles Times on December 17th, 2013 focuses on potential California state legislation that proposes an outright ban on Revenge Porn by tacking laws onto a bill that would also prohibit fully functional, plastic firearms manufactured by 3D printer technology. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia published another piece on December 10th noting that there isn’t currently any protection for victims of physically violent pornography (much less the emotionally-charged violence that’s often associated with Revenge Porn) due to Internet Privacy laws that protect website operators from prosecution.

Consent Or No Consent?

Revenge Porn Image 3There is indeed a highly debated area (morally and lawfully speaking) when it comes to precisely who is responsible for paying the price when it comes to explicit content that is published online. From the extensive research along with hands-on training I’ve had dealing with various issues brought to me by clients of Reputable, I can say that the overwhelming trend of pointing the blame hinges on whether consent to snap the photo or record the video was granted originally. In Social Media circles, the opinions of interested parties are often determined by whether or not the victim posed for, or was aware of a camera in the first place. Obvious voyeurism has without fault (in the half-dozen cases I’ve been involved in from a Reputation Management service provider’s perspective) resulted in a Social Media backlash against the poster – while a victim who was conversely granting his or her consent for the material’s production has received the business end of social scorn to go along with the waterfall of embarrassment and frustration from the media being uploaded and made available to the general public.

Recommended Solutions For Victims

My main goal with this two-part article is to provide actionable options for those who consider themselves a victim of Revenge Porn. Please check out Part 2 of this write-up, which provides Solutions And Courses Of Action For Revenge Porn Victims.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about this topic or others that deal with issues we see here at Reputable on a frequent basis. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via social media if I can be of any assistance.

-David

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David Harold

Reputation Consultant at Reputable.com
David Harold began programming as a kid (in Basic) and never lost his passion for computers and technology. Since the 1990s, he has worked extensively with online directories, search engine optimization and most recently Reputation Management. He enjoys discussing social media strategy and assisting individuals as well as companies with their Reputation Management needs. Feel free to contact him anytime if you are in need of assistance with search engine results or have any questions.

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