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The f*cked up world of revenge porn

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This piece comes from our April Issue, which you can read here via issuu


 

We belong to an increasingly visual culture. Laptops, tablets, phones, music players all come with cameras attached, and platforms like Snapchat and Instagram make sharing and swapping media simple. Online paths then allow a photo to go viral in minutes, shared across multiple platforms, to all you hold dear and many you don’t.
On some levels this is great- without it the phenomena of #TheDress would never have happened. But what happens when something goes wrong, and content that was never meant to be published appears in the public domain?

Revenge porn is sexually explicit media published online without the consent of the participant, often perpetrated by people looking to humiliate an ex-partner. 90% of victims are women, 60% of whom are aged between 18 and 30. They commonly have explicit photos of themselves splashed across mainstream social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with their tormentors often including their personal details: so those people looking at the images can contact and harass them. There are currently an estimated 15,000 different sites and networks, both on the mainstream web and the darker TOR servers, dedicated exclusively to the sharing of revenge porn.

This twisted culture of shaming has been a growing part of internet culture for five years, but has been a largely overlooked one. On the occasion a case of revenge porn breaks into popular news – think the 2014 #Fappening – there comes a deluge of self- righteous commentary from people saying that victims shouldn’t be taking explicit photos of themselves in the first place. To some extent, this may be true – but it makes no allowance for our image-heavy culture. Our relationships are digital: and as sharing media has become more simple, sexting – the sending of suggestive or explicit images- has become one of the most common online mating rituals around. Enter the realm of Chatroulette, Grindr and Tinder and you can find yourself looking at someone’s genitals before you’ve had the chance to exchange surnames, and when Snapchat was born in 2011 its fast- disappearing images rendered it an almost- flawless sexting app. Swapping explicit images is something people just do.

 My ex-boyfriend has been posting revenge porn pictures of me on Twitter, and then following all my friends, family… he wants to see me commit suicide or give up.

But should one of those supposedly- private photos get put in a public domain, it becomes a personal nightmare keeping it contained, with huge consequences for a victim’s personal and professional life. Basic searches across Reddit reveal chilling accounts, as the two sides of this ‘exchange’ grapple. “My ex-boyfriend has been posting revenge porn pictures of me on twitter and then following all my friends, family…” Redditor Milcentives, [18/F], posts. “He wants to see me commit suicide or give up – beg him to take the pictures down […] He’s done this because I’ve currently gotten into a relationship with someone he hates.”

“There are times when a man must stand up and do what is right, for himself, his country, and every amateur porn connoisseur out there, and post videos of his woman being fucked,” claims Redditor SH1V. “And what harm, really? She already devalued her body by whoring herself out. […] I’m betting most of the female stars of these juicy little videos had it coming.”

This bleak corner of internet culture is not hard to find: and as with most web and tech movements it started in California, with an asshole. Revenge porn would not be what it is today without the cult of Hunter Moore. Dubbed The Most Hated Man On The Internet by Rolling Stone, Moore created the now- defunct revenge porn website IsAnyoneUp in 2010, inspired, so he claims, by a single, lucky girl. “I was at some random club here in San Francisco, and I started flirting with this kinda ugly girl and she started sending me her nudes while I was talking to her,” he said in a 2011 interview. “And a little light bulb went off in my head.”pg24_revengepornHunt

This “light bulb” inspired an NSFW submissions blog, which mutated rapidly into the most popular domain on the net for messed up people to spill forth photographic bile against former lovers, acquaintances, even people they had no relation with. As the site runner, Moore not only published and promoted photos of people submitted to IsAnyoneUp, but published screenshots of their Facebook profiles and personal details next to the graphic images, so viewers could easily get in touch with them. A year after its launch the site was pulling in around 240,000 unique hits a day. It earned Moore the title ‘King of Revenge Porn’, and gained him 445,000 followers on Twitter who referred to themselves as #TheFamily. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to f*ck him. He spent his spare time travelling America as a working DJ.

To sum up, Hunter Moore is the kind of man you want to kick in the face. Indeed, in 2011, a woman who appeared on IsAnyoneUp took matters into her own hands and stabbed him with a pen, leaving a permanent scar on his shoulder. Fair play to her. And now, revenge porn victims are starting to make their voices heard. In 2014 Folami Prehaye set up Victims of Internet Crime in response to nudes of her being published online by a controlling ex- partner. Jennifer Lawrence publicly damned the #Fappening as a sex crime in Vanity Fair. At the beginning of 2015 Dutch student Emma Holten made headlines when she ‘claimed back’ her consent for nudes leaked online in 2011 by releasing a series of professionally shot naked photographs along with a frank account of her experience as a revenge porn victim.

With all this noise, people are starting to sit up and listen. Reddit recently updated its privacy laws to state that any nonconsensual sexual material was prohibited on the forum. Revenge porn was made a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in February 2015, with offenders now facing up to two years in prison for posting unconsented nudes online. An official helpline for victims was set up in accordance with the legislation. “People weren’t talking about revenge porn,” said Laura Higgins, Online Safety Operations Manager of revengepornhelpine.org.uk. “The people who were coming to us were all so isolated […] most people who come to us say it’s good to have someone who understands the issues and who aren’t judgmental.” She hopes the threat of the new legislation will act as a deterrent to people posting nonconsensual content online. “If you are a victim, it’s about how you deal with it.” Higgins says. “Don’t suffer in silence.”

In America, revenge porn is handled on a state-by-state basis, which makes the process of legal intervention considerably slower. But there is one small water biscuit of karma to snack on. In the last few months, following an FBI investigation, Hunter Moore has been arrested and charged with hacking victim accounts to procure content for IsAnyoneUp.com. He faces prison and a $500,000 fine- which, yes, is not explicitly for revenge porn just yet… but we’ll take it.

If you find nonconsensual images of yourself online you can ring the UK helpline on 0845 6000 459 or contact them anonymously via their Whisper app at www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk

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