For those of you who don't know, revenge porn is a form of online harassment whereby people distribute nude photos or videos of their ex-partners without their consent. These are quickly spread throughout the web via anonymous networks, forums, and revenge porn websites. Over 50 percent of revenge porn victims reported that their photo was accompanied by identifying information, such as their full name. This means that when a victim's name is Googled, say before a job interview, sales call, or even date, the search results can do irreparable harm to everything from their career to their love life. A McAfee study discovered that 10 percent of ex-partners have threatened to expose compromising photos of their ex online, and 60 percent of the time they followed through with their threats. With the widespread adoption of smartphones with cameras, and the modern ease with which individuals can anonymously create, manage, and share media, revenge porn has become an epidemic that is difficult to treat and often impossible to cure.
At BrandYourself.com, we help people put their best foot forward on the web. Unfortunately, we see an alarming amount of revenge porn cases every month. Based on our experience working with this issue, we put together a guide that can hopefully inform, prevent, or at least help the victims of revenge porn fight back.
How To Deal With Revenge Porn
Most of us don't want to live in a world where we can't send private photos to someone we're in a committed relationship with. However, the sad reality is, we do. You've probably heard it a thousand times before but it bares repeating: be careful sharing your personal information with others. The culture around technology is rapidly changing and it's hard to understand the consequences of our electronic actions. It's important to understand that even if you trust the person you're sending private pictures to, you never know how the relationship might change and how the image may be used against you in the future.
There are private messaging apps, like Snapchat and Cyberdust, that claim your photos will safely disappear after they're viewed. While these apps do add an extra layer of security, the receiver can always take a screenshot. There is simply no guarantee your photo is safe once you hit the send button. If you wouldn't want your mother seeing it, don't send it!
"Social media prenuptial agreements" are another form of prevention. While drafting your prenup, you should include clauses that state the couple agrees to not share any media online that is likely to harm a spouse's reputation. When you go into a relationship, you should talk to your partner about your privacy expectations and lay down some ground rules around the images you share.
Unfortunately, this advice doesn't apply to those who are already victims of revenge porn.
2. Take legal action
If you're already a victim of revenge porn, you may choose to seek legal counsel (endrevengeporn.org has a list of legal resources). If you go this route, it's important to act quickly. Locate and screen grab every place your photos exists online. Next, contact the websites that are hosting the compromising images and ask them to remove it; this doesn't usually work but it's important when building a legal case that you display you're actively trying to remove the non-consensual images.
In some cases, where you know the person who uploaded the photo, you can take legal action against them. Each state has widely different laws regarding revenge porn and it's important to stay informed as the laws are constantly changing. You can attempt to utilize tort and privacy law, but you'll need to prove that you expected the photos were intended to remain private. And with most tort actions, it's still very unlikely it will prevent websites and online users from downloading, storing, and distributing the photos. The majority of U.S. states have anti-cyber harassment laws that can sometimes be applied to revenge porn cases. However, you'll need to prove the revenge porn was posted to intentionally cause emotional distress, which isn't always easy to prove.
With technological advancement often outpacing our ability to regulate it, laws against revenge porn don't do enough to rectify the situation; the posted images remain online and the victim is left to do the dirty work of getting it taken down. That's why copyright law is usually your best option for removing revenge porn search results.
3. Copyright laws
An estimated 80 percent of revenge porn images are considered "selfies," meaning that the subject and the photographer are one in the same. So if it's your picture, you own the copyright. This is [where your screen grabs come in] why you should not delete the original image.
If it's your photo, you're in luck:
Google doesn't like to list results with copyrighted materials and you can get the hosting site de-indexed using a DMCA takedown. While it may still exist on the porn site, it won't show up in your Google results. This is a huge win.
In order to process a DMCA takedown:
- You need to be the copyright owner.
- You must identify the copyrighted work. (attach original)
- Provide information on where the copyright infringement is taking place.
If it's not your photo:
If the photo was taken without your knowledge (meaning you didn't create it), the process isn't so clear. But, you may still be able to leverage copyright law to get images taken offline. Let's say the compromising photo is posted on a forum. You can take a new (non-graphic) picture of yourself and upload it into the thread or comments section. Now the page has copyrighted material on it. Then, go through the DMCA takedown process and see if you can have it removed. It doesn't always work, but often times it does.
4. Ask Google to Take it Down
Just last week, Google's SVP of Google Search, Amit Singhal, announced via blog post that Google will be honoring requests to remove revenge porn from search results saying, "Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims -- predominantly women. So going forward, we'll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results".
In the coming weeks, victims will be able to submit removal requests through an online form. With recent revenge porn bans on Reddit and Twitter, we're coming into a major milestone in the fight against revenge porn.
5. Take Control of Your Online Search Results
One of the most effective ways to proactively handle the situation is to simply bury the compromising content through good search engine optimization (SEO). Populating your google results with positive content is a surefire way to help control what people are seeing when they Google your name. This is also the best way to prevent revenge porn from damaging your image in the future. Check out our Online Reputation Management: The Ultimate Guide for the best tips on controlling your online search results.
Even with these remedies, the laws don't discourage people from posting revenge porn in the first place. We still have a long fight ahead of us in amending the laws that govern online privacy.