It is now illegal to post revenge porn in Canada since the passing of Bill C-13 in October.
Despite this, many young people continue to ignore the risks of sending or posting compromising photos or videos of themselves on social media.
Michele Bond of the Sex Crime Unit and Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Police Headquarters recalls an 18-year-old university student who found herself the victim in a similar situation.
“She was dating a guy for approximately four years… they had made some private sex tapes…When the relationship had dissolved and she was the one who ended it, he didn’t take that too lightly and he made a webpage with these pictures,” says Bond.
The girl was taking a media course and was working towards her dream of becoming a sports broadcaster – but with every search of Google, the webpage would appear. At the time, Bond said there was no way to have it taken down, as there were no laws set in place to tackle this problem. The police eventually intervened, however, and the website was removed, but the damage was already done and the content was already in the public domain.
It’s become disconcertingly common for elementary and high school students to record and share their indiscretions. So what happens when the content goes viral and the spectators are immature?
A 17-year-old girl walks through the front doors of her Scarborough high school – the hallway is silent, and all eyes are on her. A video of her performing oral sex in the school stairwell is playing on a monitor in the hall.
The young man involved says that he had been talking to the girl for a while before he realized that she was interested in a little more than friendship.
At one point, in her attempt to console the young man who had lost some money, she asked what she could do to help.
The man suggested that she perform oral sex on him. He says that he brought her to a stairwell and asked her if he could film her on his phone – an offer that he says she accepted. He says he didn’t share the video with anyone, but says another young woman found the video on his computer and sent it others.
The video ended up on Youtube and quickly reached more than 75,000 views, despite the man’s insistence that the recording never left his computer. It has since been removed from Youtube, but the video may still remain on personal hard drives.
Their lives changed dramatically after that: The boy was praised, while the girl was shamed. The boy says that the she was even thrown into a garbage bin at school. Even though he says that he never had feelings for her – he goes as far as calling her “convenient” – the now 22-year-old man says he felt badly because “She is going through all this shit and I’m there going through nothing.”
Professor and Dean of Social Work at the University of Toronto Dr. Faye Mishna said the Internet is a revolution, “It’s really part of a culture,” she says.
“There’s a real pressure in the media and our society for girls to look a certain way and be sexualized and be sexy without going over the line and being a… slut,” says Mishna.
Coordinator of Counseling Services at Humber College Liz Sokol says she doesn’t think people realize that their photos are compromising when they initially take them.
“I think quite often it is a gesture of affection and it’s like a flirty kind of thing to do,” said Sokol, who admits to not having much experience with social media. However, she says, “It’s a way of gaining power.”
Sokol says she thinks that immature people leak intimate imagery because they may feel out of control, and subconsciously think they will feel better about themselves afterwards.
She says that they might not even be aware of why they leaked the content.
Sokol says that she believes social media has become a platform for spreading rumours and personal content because it works.
“Instead of whispering to my friend about you, I can whisper to the whole world,” she says.
“I feel sorry for Kim Kardashian,” said Sokol after she saw Kardashian’s bathing suit cover for PAPER magazine. “You don’t send something like that out unless you are looking for feedback,” she says.
Sokol says sometimes people post racy imagery because of self-esteem issues. She also says she believes people do it because they’re looking for a connection or a sense of community. She says social media could feel like a safe place to show off physical assets because the interaction is not in person or can deny that you are the person afterwards.
"He didn't take too lightly and he made a webpage with these pictures."
-Michele Bond, Sex Crime Unit and Child Exploitation, Detective
Bond says she recently had a case where a 13-year-old girl befriended an older person on Facebook and within hours found herself in what Bond describes as “trouble”. The young girl confided in Bond telling her that she accepts everyone on Facebook because it makes her feel popular.
Mishna says she and others in her psychiatric team keep track of content in television shows. She says in the mainstream media there are subliminal messages – that television shows today depict young people sending out flirtatious images, but not the consequences. She relates this phenomenon to when people started smoking on TV.
She says adults need to recognize the futility of asking young people not to make use of their technology, and start educating them on how to manage their online accounts responsibly.
When adults talk about posting compromising images they say, “Why do they do it, they shouldn’t do it, it’s bad? [So] When they do it, they don’t tell,” says Mishna.
She thinks society needs to change the way it views young women in comparison to young men. She feels that boys are put on a pedestal, while girls go through “slut-shaming” – and that it all has to do with the pressures for young women to look sexy, but not always knowing when they are crossing the line.
Thunder Bay Shelter House Executive Director and federal Liberal Canada candidate Patricia Hajdu screens potential employees profiles online.
“I personally have looked up someone’s social media profile whether it’s... Facebook or Twitter”. She also used Google in the past. She said that Shelter House does not have a strong policy for background checks but she will do it sometimes anyway. Hajdu said if a candidate said something in an interview that ‘tweaked’ her interest she will do a search.
She said if she found a photograph of a person drinking on their profile it most likely wouldn’t deter her from hiring the person. However, she said it depends on the position they would hold. A person who could be a public figure cannot have these type of images associated with them.
Hajdu said “It is always a negative thing when you come across somebody’s social media that’s perhaps glorifying how intoxicated they are getting or … they’re wearing clothing that’s … revealing,” and said, “it certainly can bias an employer.”
She said you also have to be careful when you befriend a co-worker or a boss on Facebook. Hajdu said she has seen content on co-workers profiles that violate Shelter House code of ethics. In these cases she said she has had to communicate with the person directly and said it can even end up in termination depending on the nature of the infraction.
“I don’t think there actually is a legal implication in searching social media and it’s an open site,” said Hajdu. She thinks it only becomes an issue if an employer starts asking people questions about the candidates job that she gained through their online network.
She said that her company asks candidates to provide references and has them sign a release form. Hajdu thinks it’s unethical to ask questions about a candidate if she was not given permission to do so.
Because of all of the issues surrounding leaked images on social media, a new bill has been created. Bill C-13, also known as the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, is now giving victims the power to fight back.
It’s now an offence to distribute intimate images without the consent of the other party. In the case that the victim incurs any fees pertaining to the removal of the content, the person accountable for the distribution will have to pay. A recognizance order can also be issued by police, which prevents further distribution and restricts the convicted offender from using the Internet or a computer.
Bond said needhelpnow.com is an online resource that helps victims of online bullying in relation to content leaking. This resource can be used to try to have images removed from the Internet.
Mishna encourages victims to seek psychiatric help if they are experiencing signs of depression.