However timidly, state governments are starting take a look at the kind of websites that claim to post “revenge” photos and videos of exes in, how do we put this, compromising situations. California has already passed a very limited law, and New York is considering passing one itself. Needless to say, this has spawned a whole bunch of harrumphing on the Internet about how this is needless government intervention and how you can’t protect people from their own stupidity.
And all that harrumphing is wrong. Here’s why.
Yes, People Are Stupid
Let’s just get this out of the way; yeah, if you take a photo of yourself naked, and worse, send it to somebody without their asking, you are setting yourself up for Geraldo-grade humiliation. The same is true of posting anything on social media, and so on. When it comes to the Internet, it’s important to assume that it’s public, and stupid to ever assume otherwise.
And no, it’s not the government’s job to protect people from their own stupidity, either. The problem with following that line of logic too far, though, is that it loses track of the important point, which is that if somebody takes something you thought was private, and posts it online, that’s not your fault. You’re a victim of a malicious act, that simple.
“Revenge” Sites Are Built To Victimize People
Unsurprisingly, guys like Hunter Moore, who you might remember tried to get people to brush their teeth with poop for an iPhone among other charming stunts, are adamantly opposed to this law, saying it “protects stupid people from themselves.” But that leaves out a pretty important link in the chain from nude selfie to Internet infamy: The jackass who posts it.
The last time I checked, phones don’t scan all your photos for nude pics and upload them to the Internet against your will. No, somebody made a conscious decision to put that photo on the Internet for strangers to look at and use for “personal purposes”. Stop and think about that for a minute: “Emotionally hurt me, and I’m make sure total strangers use images of your naked body in a lotion-and-tissues kind of way” is pretty damn creepy.
Nobody has to post these pictures. They make a choice to do so, and generally, when you make a choice to deliberately hurt another human being, governments tend to think “Hmmmmm, maybe I should get involved here.”
Still, There Are Limits To The Law
Is there much that can be done legally? Good question. Even California’s lawmakers chose to leave out the majority of “revenge” photos, which are selfies. And realistically, there does have to be a limit; any law that works will have to be narrowly focused.
Honestly, these sites exist largely because there’s no social consensus on what, precisely, constitutes public with photos. We went from snapshots sitting in a shoebox to snapshots sitting out in public without any real conversation about the etiquette of looking at them. And, again, it’s foolish to assume anything sent out over a radio will remain private. But it’s also foolish to insist it’s the victim’s fault.
(Image via Geraldo’s Twitter, alas)
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