This can happen to just about anyone. You enter into a romantic relationship, things are just getting started or maybe you have already enjoyed a long time together, and then things go bad. Really bad. Where once there was love, attraction, and companionship is now vitriol, recriminations, and sometimes even hate. It is difficult to believe that things that were once so good in a relationship can become so horrible. However, things can go sour in a relationship and this may become the motivation for a cyberbullying attack.
Cyberbullying is bullying another person using any electronic means, which includes, but is not limited to, emails, websites, chats, instant messaging systems, electronic forums/bulletin boards, articles, blogs, video blogs, posts on social media, text messages, mobile phone calls, and/or voicemail messages. One of the more unfortunate things that may happen as a form of cyberbullying is “revenge porn.”
What Is Revenge Porn?
Revenge porn is a specific kind of cyberbullying, which is the unauthorized use and/or dissemination of private, intimate photos, or videos that are usually sexually explicit without the permission of the person(s) appearing in the photos or videos with the intent to harm said person(s).
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Revenge porn may be used by a disgruntled ex-lover who wants to harm the reputation of the person that they broke up with. This attack can take the form of posting photos and/or videos on public websites, forums, pornography sharing systems, and on social media. Often the person seeking revenge will include not only the intimate photos and videos but also personal identifying information such as where the person under attack lives and/or works.
The Daily Mail reports that another form of revenge porn is the creation of fake accounts on systems for dating and making sexual contacts by pretending to be the person under attack. These accounts can disseminate false information and can be used to solicit sexual encounters. One angry ex-girlfriend posted false information about a man who was supposedly seeking sexual encounters on sex websites, including gay sex sites and those for HIV-positive people, even though the man was heterosexual and HIV negative. She used his real name, real contact information, and his work email account.
This work email account received over 6,000 sexually explicit emails. Luckily, the man was proactive and informed his employer of the cyber attack, which helped prevent him from being terminated for an unauthorized use of his work-related email account.
How To Avoid Revenge Porn?
Content that is sexually explicit, which is created voluntarily by adults to share with other adults is not illegal and is very common. It is fun and exciting to share intimate photos and videos with lovers and sexual partners. If a relationship begins online, then it is common for online video chatting to include sexually explicit behavior. The only trouble that may come up later is when this content is used by one of the parties involved in an attempt to harm the other one.
Basic Proactive Rule - Don’t make explicit photos and/or videos and don’t share them with others. This is one way to completely avoid the problem of revenge porn. By completely refusing to participate in the sharing of sexually explicit content, there is nothing that can be used for revenge porn. If there is none of this content shared, then it cannot be abused in the future.
Compromise Rule - A compromise is to share such content, but only in such a way that the person in the content is not completely identified, such as not showing the full body with the face and only showing the torso from the neck downwards.
Carefree Rule - Many do not care if the sexually explicit content of theirs is publicly displayed on the Internet. For example, some famous actors have so much fake porn of them posted on the Internet that releasing real nudes is a form of recapturing control over an actor’s image. In a counter-intuitive, yet effective way, this is a form of defense of the true self-images.
Capturing sexually explicit photos and/or videos and disseminating them without permission is either a civil law violation, which can be the basis of a lawsuit or a criminal violation that can be reported to the proper law enforcement authorities for the filing of criminal charges.
Examples of involuntary content are images taken by spy cams without the permission of the person being photographed or filmed. Moreover, it is a crime to film or photograph a person if they have been drugged or are so intoxicated that they cannot give reasonable consent. Taking steps to avoid the capturing and misuse of involuntary content includes being careful that there are not hidden recording devices, making sure any webcams on computers are secure and protecting personal photos and video files from being copied.
Security steps to take include:
1) Look for (and remove) any hidden recording devices.
2) Password protect computers and files using strong passwords. Encrypt any sensitive personal images or video files.
3) Disable webcams on computers, laptops, and mobile devices, including smartphones, and cover the lenses with a physical cover to block capturing images without authorization.
4) Do not send explicit images or videos as an attachment to an email or through an instant messaging system.
5) Do not post any explicit images or videos online.
6) Keep software updated with security updates.
7) Use virus and malware protection software and firewalls to improve security.
8) When upgrading systems, permanently destroy all old files on any hard drives or memory storage cards, which are installed in any equipment that will be discarded.
What To Do If You Are The Target Of Revenge Porn
1) Ask the person conducting the attack in a formal way, which can be documented and witnessed, to stop. An example of this is sending a notarized, written letter to the perpetrator of the attack, which requires a signature to accept it. Keep a copy of this letter and forward a copy to your lawyer.
2) If the photos and/or videos are your personal property, file for a copyright on the materials. This will help with the removal requests.
3) Investigate the laws that apply. Cyberbullying and revenge porn is illegal in many states. If there are criminal laws that cover such situations, file an official criminal complaint with the appropriate law enforcement authority. If the photos and/or videos have been transmitted across state lines, the laws of more than one state may apply as well as federal laws. CyberCivilRights.org reports that 38 states plus Washington D.C. now have laws against revenge porn.
4) Document everything that occurs in great detail. Have a witness sign the documentation to verify its accuracy and the date that the information was collected.
5) Close all online accounts, social media accounts, and email accounts that have been compromised.
6) Use the Google image search feature to find all the places where the unauthorized use of the content is occurring.
7) Officially request, in writing, the removal of unauthorized content where it is found. Use the Whois system to look up the contact information of the owners of websites that show the unauthorized content in order to be able to contact them. If they have privacy settings enabled this information may not be available.
8) Challenge any fake accounts as they are discovered and make a formal complaint to close such accounts with the service provider for such accounts.
9) For any copyrighted content that you own, file notices with the search engines under the regulations of the DMCA takedown rules. Do this with all the major search engines to make them remove links to unauthorized (your copyrighted) materials. Even if the content is not copyrighted, Google has the official policy of honoring requests to remove links to revenge porn, so ask Google to do this by using Google’s online form for this purpose. Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter now also ban revenge porn and will remove links to explicit photos or videos if requested by any person that appears in such photos or videos.
10) Take legal action by filing a civil lawsuit against the attacker and name all parties that have the content online as co-defendants. Demand that the legal authorities pursue any criminal charges, which are appropriate. Get your attorney to ask a court of proper jurisdiction to issue a court order for an injunction to stop the further unauthorized dissemination of the content and force its removal from the Internet.
If you do not want to do all this work by yourself, you can hire an online reputation management company to do this work for you, if you can afford the cost of their services. Their job is to conduct continual online searches and work to remove negative or harmful content that damages your reputation.
For additional information and help, visit WithoutMyConsent.org and the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) project. If you are being threatened or victimized right now, call the CCRI Hotline at telephone number 844-878-CCRI (2274) for immediate help.