Sunday, May 7, 2017

Is Facebook’s New Tool Enough to Stop the Spread of Revenge Porn?

By   Anya Zhukova  

What does living in the age of technology and information mean? Does it mean life is easier?
Sure, it’s easier to find a job, travel, and stay in touch. It’s also easier to make information go viral. While some see that as an opportunity to gain fame and money by, say, becoming YouTube stars, others use it to commit crimes.
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Online crime is in a constant process of evolution. Cyber-bullying didn’t make much sense to people only 10 years ago. But now it’s on the news all the time. And new forms are popping up. Fortunately, so are tools that could help combat this trend.

Revenge Porn: A Growing Problem

blurred picture of woman
Image Credit: piyapat phakdee via Shutterstock
A relatively new form of online harassment is revenge porn, the act of sharing intimate photos and videos of a former partner. The term and definition came into existence in the 2010s, with a few famous cases popping up all over the world.What Is Revenge Porn, And Are You At Risk From It? What Is Revenge Porn, And Are You At Risk From It?READ MORE
The photos are often accompanied by the person’s name, perhaps their address and phone number, links to social media accounts, maybe even their workplace. This crime isn’t always about pornography. It’s about ridiculing and hurting others.
For victims, it means saying goodbye to privacy. And being constantly paranoid about where the pictures are going to appear next. Being blackmailed is always a worry, too.
For those sharing the images… well, it depends. At this time, only a few countries have laws against revenge porn. Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, thirty-six states of the United States, and the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia have made it illegal.

What Goes Around… Keeps Going Around

computer keyboard share button
Image Credit: Pepsco Studio via Shutterstock
When it comes to revenge porn, the offender’s goal is often to share the images with as many people inside and outside the victim’s circle as possible. That’s where the internet comes in.
The most famous case at the moment is probably the Marine United private Facebook page, where hundreds of Marines shared their coworkers’ intimate pictures. You can argue that people responsible for sharing those pictures got punished. The truth is that there are numerous communities and websites that allow sharing of non-consensual sexual material of this kind.

What’s Being Done So Far

In 2015, both Google and Microsoft took a stand against revenge porn. The companies promised to remove or hide inappropriate content when a victim requests action, as well as help the victims of sexual harassment.Google Bans Revenge Porn, Uber Bans Guns, Etsy Bans Spells, & More... [Tech News Digest] Google Bans Revenge Porn, Uber Bans Guns, Etsy Bans Spells, & More... [Tech News Digest]Technology companies go on a banning spree, Apple changes policy because of Taylor Swift, Amazon updates its customer reviews algorithm, and the life and death of an Apple iPhone.READ MORE
Twitter has recently announced employing the help of IBM’s artificial intelligence machine Watson to fight cyber crime, revenge porn included.
Finally, Facebook has recently joined the forces with other internet giants by launching an anti-revenge porn tool on the website.

Facebook’s Anti-Revenge Porn Tool

facebook icon cursing bubble
The tool tracks images on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, preventing the content in question from being shared on all those networks. Here’s how it works:
  • If you see an image or video on Facebook that you suspect is shared without consent there’s now a button to report it.
  • Facebook will then review it and decide if it violates the social network’s community standards.
  • In some cases, Facebook will also disable the account that shared the images. However, there’s an appeal process if you believe the image was taken down in error.
  • The most important part is the photo-matching technology the network has installed. It is designed to prevent anyone from sharing that same photo again, whether on Facebook, Messenger, or Instagram.

How Effective Is It?

This new technology has been in place for less than a month now, so we’ll have to wait a while for long term stats on how effective it is.
While developing these new tools, Facebook received advice and assistance from the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Center for Social Research, and the U.K. Revenge Porn Helpline. According to Antigone Davis, Head of Global Safety at Facebook, those organizations “provided input and feedback throughout the product-development process.”

Why It’s Not Enough

woman scared covering up
Image Credit: PhotoMediaGroup via Shutterstock
Installing this tool is definitely a step forward. But the problem of revenge porn is more complex and won’t be solved in an instant.
The problem is that revenge porn inflicts damage the first time it’s shared. So removing it after it’s been posted isn’t the best solution. A picture or a video has to be reported for the technology to recognize it and prevent re-sharing.
Hence, the tool is helpless against pictures being posted and shared in private groups and pages on Facebook until there’s someone to report it. Which may never happen.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only blind spot. Reporting non-consensual porn on Facebook will stop the image from spreading on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, but not elsewhere on the internet. When the Marine United page was reported to Facebook, the members simply moved the party to Google Drive.
It’ll take some serious communication between Google, Twitter, and Facebook to ensure the same policies are being implemented across all networks.

The Ultimate Solution

According to a Facebook spokesperson, the photo-matching technology is only the first step in building “a safe community on and off Facebook.” The next step could include technology like AI that scans images prior to posting.
But making sure AI understands the context is difficult. Ultimately, what makes an image revenge porn over, say, a work of modern art or a photography piece is difficult to teach to a machine.
A good example of the latter is the Napalm Girl controversy. Incidents like this bring up serious debates about freedom of speech and censorship.

Victim (and Other Kinds of) Blaming

finger quarrel angry
Image Credit: Victoria 1 via Shutterstock
To say that the problem of revenge porn is controversial is an understatement. Even in the countries with active laws against the crime, there are still loopholes for the offenders. People taking advantage of the blurred lines aren’t making it easier to label it a crime and prosecute it.
Take the example of the celebrity nude photo hack on iCloud. Those who leaked images on the internet weren’t the celebrities’ offended ex-partners. However, the act was still non-consensual and has done the same amount of damage any revenge porn does to its victims.
It’s easy to say “don’t take nude videos or photos if you don’t want them shared with the world.” Just as easy as saying “don’t wear a short skirt if you don’t want to get raped.” But victim-blaming isn’t going to help the situation.
We could just as easily dismiss this whole issue with “at least Facebook’s doing something to eliminate the problem”. But you can hardly ever comfort anyone with a sentence that began with “at least.”
Do you think Facebook’s efforts will help stop revenge porn? Or should they do more to prevent people from sharing non-consensual intimate pictures online? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image credit: Dean Drobot via Shutterstock.  Source:


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