Girls on Film: How Innocent Pictures Feed the Internet Porn Machine

How do we deal with a culture in which kids are encouraged to post pictures of themselves and are then exploited?

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When I was in high school, someone took a photo of me in our school’s production of a Tom Stoppard play. For some reason my character was on her hands and knees in a ballroom-dancing outfit. One of my friends asked me if he could borrow the photo, to prove to another girl, he said, that I was in the school play. I never saw it again. I thought little of it. To me it was a funny photo of me in a pink dress. To the testosterone-charged boys among whom it circulated, it was a photo of cleavage. How do I know this? Years later my husband told me. He saw the photo.

I was lucky. There was just one photo as color copies were too expensive for school-age boys. The damage was pretty much limited to one zipcode. And I was dressed. But today, capturing and preserving a girl’s image is an extremely, globally high-risk proposition. One false step and you’re fed to the Internet trolls.

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The British Internet Watch Foundation, which works with local police to investigate complaints of online child sexual abuse, recently combed through its database of sites specifically for images that looked like they were self-portraits or self-made videos. In a mere 47 hours they found more than 12,000 instances of girls who had taken provocative portraits or videos of themselves; when they examined the provenance of these photos, they found 88% of them had been lifted from other websites, including social media. That is, almost nine times out of ten, the self-portraits on the porny or otherwise offensive websites were used without the permission or knowledge of the people in them.

Why do young girls take pictures of themselves semi-naked or in come-hither poses? Theories abound. Some point to the mainstreaming of porn. Others attribute it to an increasingly sexualized society in which girls are saturated with images of women doing their best to inspire lust. There are theories that girls are just trying on various identities, playing at being adult. Some girls are coaxed into it by boyfriends, or lure into it by predators. Some are not thinking past the spur-of-the-moment snapshot on a camera phone. And then, too, there are teens who enjoy being sexual creatures and don’t care who knows.

A lot of the time, though, the photos are not meant to be sultry. Scroll through almost any teenage girl’s Facebook page — there are thousands that have zero privacy safeguards — and you’ll see photos of girls that, in another context, could be considered lewd. Facebook currently has a Bikini Jailbait page that has perfectly innocent pictures of cheerleaders and girls in school uniform and teens in their pjs on sleepovers and girls at the beach presented in a whole new way. That page offers a link to a more hardcore page for which you have to be 18 (which you prove by checking a box that says you’re 18). The fact that many of the girls in them are unaware of the use to which their images are being put apparently adds to the thrill.

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How do these photos get circulated so widely? There is aggregating software, but most of the damage is done by other humans — not evil, psychopathic porn-moguls, but regular bored guys who like being popular. Never was this clearer than when Gawker unmasked a notorious internet troll known as Violentacrez (pronounced violent acres) on Oct 12. Violentacrez was known, and somewhat celebrated, for his offensive posts on the huge sprawling website Reddit.com. He created such Reddit pages as Rapebait, with photos of underclad underage girls, Creepshots, with covert photos taken of women’s behinds or breasts, and Boobies, with pictures of, well, not seabirds.

Violentacrez turned out to be not some monster but Michael Brutsch, a sad sack 49-year-old burly white guy who lives in Texas, worked at a boring job at a financial services agency, has a diabetic wife and a son who was about to join the Marines. When CNN pressed on him on what he was thinking, he seemed like a guy whose moral compass had never found north. “I have come to understand that things are inappropriate,” he said. “I am to some degree apologizing for what I did. I was playing to an audience of college kids.” This from a guy who started a Reddit section called Chokeabitch.

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If lost, pathetic souls like Mr. Brutsch aren’t enough to take all the joy out of photography, then there are the several pages on Facebook which appropriate girls’ photos or tweets and annotate them with remarks about their sluttiness that range from snide to cruel to violent.  On the “12 year old slut meme’s” page on Facebook, which is no longer active (the page owners signed off for good on October 11), two Australian men “Dom” and “James,” took it on themselves to run a westernized version of the Taliban using crude humor. Cartoons depicted sluts being pushed in front of trains, or Dora the Explorer talking about breasts. Their mission, as they saw it: “If you post slutty f—ing s— on facebook expect your photo to end up on here, then tagged in, then ripped to shreds by 120 thousand people. Chaos will continue. Go die.” More than 217,000 people clicked a button to say they liked the page and some continue to post comments. A sister page lives on, more simply but just as grammatically incorrectly known as “slutmeme’s.” Facebook has not closed down either page, but has removed some offensive material.

There are no good options for unmaking this cycle, in which girls — and some boys too — are encouraged to take and post portraits, then are exploited, and/or widely shamed for it. And there is no one villain, just a lot of people with a suboptimal understanding of the consequences of their actions, all of which cumulate in young girls being victimized.

But there is one clear message: once a picture goes online, it can never be unpublic again. It’s like trying to take out the tea once you’ve added boiling water. Perhaps it’s time to simply stop taking photos. Or at least make sure your child is fully aware of what he or she is doing. You might put it the way Internet Watch researcher Sarah Smith does: “If you have 100 friends on Facebook and each of them has 100 friends, are you really sure you want them all to see the photo you’re posting?”

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13 comments
jimivu
jimivu

Maybe we should ban camera phones like Saudi Arabia does.

altongrimes
altongrimes

I was immediately captured by the statement: "an increasingly sexualized society in which girls are saturated with images of women doing their best to inspire lust". The unintended (or intended) consequence of a "sexualized"society, as I see it, is the progressive elimination of the potential for qualities like intimacy, communication, trust, mystery, tenderness, respect, etc.. Consequently, I believe that I am sensing a palpable resentment among many women to this process of objectification. Men are now becoming the enemy, predatory creatures clamoring for the next piece of meat... 

MuhammadKhizirFarooqi
MuhammadKhizirFarooqi

I fully agree with sean.C. That is why I advice that the today's ARISTOTLE & SOCRATES.be asked to solve the problem before it becomes impossible..Then nothing would stop all of us to behave like animals or beasts. No doubt the SEX is the most important factor of all living bodies. It can not be ignored but A shield or cover could be provided. There must be some upper hand or superiority for human beings  over and above animals

MuhammadKhizirFarooqi
MuhammadKhizirFarooqi

The writing of Belinda Luscombe is commendable as it has open our eyes. We all had been BEASTS if there would have been No RELIGION. Just follow any one or take the ethics from them, then there would be no problem.. As  a living organism,  there is no difference between MEN & ANIMALS. It is the religion which taught us how to live in a society or family. Most of the religions have put a bar between men & women and clearly defined their sphere of work & duty  which may vary from place to place or society to society just like a tree where branches and leaves are different of sizes but the root is the same of. .Free mixing other than job requirements that too at secluded places is bound to produce the result for which this article  is written.

There is great need to cap this CULTURAL TRENDS & SOCIAL SCIENCES while it is still budding. To close the FACEBOOK. is one of the options. .Presently MAIL BOX is sufficient to meet requirement of present day youths. .Though difficult but not impossible for the today's ARISTOTLE & SOCRATES to find a way out before it becomes really impossible

sean.C
sean.C

Religion does not sort out everything, it merely puts up walls and tells folks where they are supposed to be.

What would closing down Facebook do?  I admit, I am no fan of the social network software, far from it, but I don't see how closing it down would help at all.

JohnFrum
JohnFrum

How do girls/women appear attractive to men?

The old fashioned way - by being 'sexy'. Does that explain why young girls like to show off, flirt, and advertise?

Since before we figured out that caves kept the rain out. That's why the world's oldest profession is still such a growth industry.

 How does a mother teach a girl to be beyond 'sexy' while her mom herself dies her hair, puts on a face, lipsticks her bj device, has 'work done', and does everything she possibly can to look like her daughter (ie, young)? Duh

 The girl sees where the Mom gets her power from - and she wants that too. And Daddy. 

You are the model - she's just smart enough to see it

The fragile female ego would be devastated if she realized she 'wasn't sexy' and that on the whole most are 'fives' on a scale of 5/10. Every woman past 30 loses one point per decade just based on years alone. And yes, you also lose a point for every 10 lbs of overweight you're packing. 60 and fat and most women are looking at negative scores

Deal with it

Get real - take a look in the mirror while you're at it - and quit objectifying men as 'Money Objects', you female feminist oink. 

sean.C
sean.C

Wow, dude, that is cold.

And what does calling the writer and a 'female feminist oink' solve?

sean.C
sean.C like.author.displayName 1 Like

I used to be all for feminism, but quite frankly, I think it is a lost cause.  Pornography is increasing, girls are allowing themselves to be sexualised, and an incident on The Talk, where the female hosts were laughing about a man who was drugged by his former girlfriend, who then sliced off his penis was just it for me.  Would they be laughing if it were a husband who did the same thing to his ex-wife's clitoris? I doubt it.

No, there is only so much hand holding one can do to make them have common sense, but enough is enough.  I even know one 'girl' aged 19 who was treated like crud by her 'friend with benefits', even to the point where he dropped her in a taxi without a care for what happened to her, and she was almost raped.  Yet she still went back to him.   There is dating the 'bad boy' in the hopes of finding the diamond in the rough, and there is being a sado masochist.  And that is what has happened to most women. Whether it is facebook, or face to face, they have to respect themselves before anyone will respect them.

redleg
redleg

why do people have to make up stories to write an article?  the fable told at the beginning of this NEVER happened.  who would ask someone for a picture, to prove to someone else, that the original person . . . was in a play?  at least make the lies believable!

Nhi
Nhi

The British Internet Watch Foundation, which works with local police

In a mere 47 hours they found more than 12,000 instances of girls who had taken provocative portraits

Please get rid of that stupid organization, you guys are paying them money to watch porn all day long. Waste of tax money and time on stupid organizations like those that don't achieve anything other than by talking to newspaper companies and using their papers to keep government thinking they are doing stuff but they are really just watching porn on the internet all day long.

tillzen
tillzen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

To suggest that women need change their online behaviors is to miss the point completely. Women, their bodies and their lives belong to women. For 5000 years both men and women have allowed women to be objectified and it reduces women to being easily disposable things. How do I know this? In the last few years, the media has begun objectifying men and as a man it viscerally creeps me out. I'm not comfortable being reduced to being, a hunk, or meat or a brand and this finally clued me in to what a women must feel. They (and us) have the right, the human right to awaken each day being one thing, to dress for their day as another, to travel to work amidst men as a third thing, to work their day and to return home in whatever identity they choose. Men do it daily. We try on lives and ideas and then choose where we make our stand without having to explain ourselves to anybody but ourselves. Its called freedom and it can't be doled out in small doses. Women have the exact same rights we do to try their best, screw up completely and to try again. As men we need to see them truly as partners and as equals Fair is fair.

Indie
Indie

@tillzen An eloquent expression. Thank you for saying it so well. 

sucorazon20101
sucorazon20101

Easy solution : get off Facebook !!

Or use a FB account but do not post photos or personal info.

Not even a personal photo.

Be on the web to make it work for you , but don't live there !!