Think before posting #selfies

Steve Chapman

Is sexting a legitimate form of self-expression? It may well be, but it can also be a risky behavior, and it seems it is best for people to forgo sexting and find other ways to express themselves.

Emma Vasquez, a general studies major, agrees. “I just think (people) shouldn’t do it,” she said. “They have to have respect for themselves.”

Many years ago, when I was in high school, my civics teacher gave my classmates and myself a piece of advice: “Never write down anything you don’t want people to read; you don’t know whose hands it might wind up in.” It seems her advice could apply not only to written communication, but to today’s social media as well.

For example, in 2007, a 14-year old girl named Angie Varona took selfies in which she was wearing bikinis or lingerie and then posted them to a private Photobucket account, intending for only her boyfriend to see them. But then her account was hacked, the images where stolen, and her pictures began appearing on websites across the globe; in some cases the images were photoshopped to make her appear topless.

Varona could never have imagined the fallout she would be facing. She was tormented so badly at school that she eventually had to be homeschooled. Strangers, claiming to be Varona, started making Facebook pages that displayed the purloined pictures. Worst of all, she was stalked and received rape threats.

While Varona’s situation was extreme, it was hardly unique. A study by the Internet Watch Foundation said 88% of sexual images and videos that young people make of themselves and then posted online are taken from the original sites and posted elsewhere, according to an article that appeared in the Sydney Herald.

It appears no one who takes sexual images of themselves is safe. Even celebrities such as Vanessa Hudgens, Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Mila Kunis have had provocative private pictures stolen and made public. Considering the high possibility such images might be seen by people the pictures weren’t intended for, it begs to ask: Should people take such pictures of themselves in the first place?

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming the people who took the provocative self-photos or posed for them for the fact their images were displayed over the Internet. The responsibility for that falls squarely on the shoulders of those who actually spread the pictures, and such predators should face severe criminal consequences.

Unlike the related crime of sextortion, where the predators can be prosecuted under existing laws and can face up to life in prison, many victims of revenge porn and the theft of selfies have little recourse in the criminal courts. Varona and her parents tried to stop the spread of her pictures, only to be told there was nothing to be done.

What it comes down to is, until the states make spreading private pictures a crime, the best weapon you have to protect yourself from sextortion of the theft of selfies is prevention. Simply refuse to take or pose for these types of pictures and the predators will have nothing to use against you.

Selfies are a form of protected self-expression and if you are at least 18 and wish to take nude photos of yourself or pose for them, you have every right to do so. You also have the right to expect those you share such photos with will not show them to anyone else if it is understood the pictures are for their eyes only.

But with high likelihood that your photos may be posted elsewhere, whether by an angry ex or an outside hacker who steals them, you should ask yourself how you would feel if your selfies were seen by others. If you’re okay with it, then you have nothing to worry about. But if you’re mortified at the thought of complete strangers seeing you au natural, you might want to think twice.