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Revenge: a dish best served cyber

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DECEMBER 03, 2013

You’ve been with your partner for a while now, and you’ve been looking for ways to spice things up. Handcuffs and blindfolds? Done it. Butt play? Blase. Y’all are even on the elusive mile-high club.

Then, the fateful question: “Want to film a porno?” You chew your lip and worry for a second, but you really trust your partner — it’s been so long, after all. So you flip on a camera. The red blinking light makes you feel both awkward and salaciously audacious. Before you know it, it’s over. Later, you and your buddy watch it, laugh and forget about it … for a while. Dun dun dun.

From here, things don’t have to end as horrifically as you might think. There are couples that remain incredibly respectful regarding their intimate content years after their break-up, whose partners either ask for permission before showing shared intimate content or otherwise delete it and move on.

As you might expect, though, that’s not always the case. We’ve all heard stories about “revenge porn,” in which a vengeful ex uploads intimate photos or videos of someone without his or her consent. The more vindictive might even upload such media to copycats of the infamous (and now defunct) IsAnyoneUp.com back in 2010. There, they could link your name, social media and sometimes even address to your nude photos and videos to royally screw you over for life.

In October, California joined New Jersey in passing legislation to criminalize revenge porn. Those against the bill, SB 255, are predominantly concerned about possible infringements on politically relevant free speech (think Anthony Weiner’s wiener), while supporters argue that curbing cyberbullying is more than warranted — it’s necessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union was in the anti-SB 255 camp early in the law’s drafting, though it rescinded dissent after the law was made clear to only pertain to situations in which serious, intentional emotional distress is caused. But free speech isn’t the only platform for those against revenge porn laws.

Opponents of the legislation may also posit that it is the person’s fault for being taped or photographed in the first place. This sort of viewpoint is espoused by Hunter Moore, infamous founder of IsAnyoneUp.com. In response to the new law, he uploaded this rant (which has since been removed): “I’m sorry I was smart enough to monetize your stupid fucking mistakes.” Not to say you’re as much an asshole as Hunter Moore is — just possibly shortsighted.

A large part of the scandals with IsAnyoneUp.com back in the day — and the reason the FBI was involved — was that social engineering hacks had stolen many of the photos and uploaded them to the website. Sometimes the victim had no part in this. The perpetrator might be looking for extortions. With IsAnyoneUp.com, for example, you had to pay $250 to a “third-party” website to remove your photo — never mind that IsAnyoneUp.com and the third-party website were owned by the same people.

And even if the victim consented at the time the video or pictures were taken, revenge porn still has more to do with the malicious person trying to drag someone’s good name into the mud after the fact, not the victim’s choices, which were supposed to have been held in confidentiality.

The rhetoric of victim-blaming is apparent not only in some of the arguments used against the legislation but also within the law’s writing itself. As it is, the law only kicks into gear when the person who uploaded the content also took the pictures — so hackers and selfies aren’t covered. Bad luck for the 80 percent of all victims of revenge porn who took the pictures themselves (think Snapchat before the collective realization last year that uh, yeah, screencaps are a thing).

On a less sympathetic note, Anthony Weiner’s shots were also selfies. They wouldn’t have been covered under the California law as it is, but if the law is extended as some proponents hope, there could be some serious issues for journalists trying to expose morally uncouth politicians and the like. So therein lies the opposition’s argument — what if, for some special occasion like Weinergate, the porn has important political or social implications? In Maryland, legislators working to pass a similar bill attempted to address the latter issue by excluding images deemed to have “public importance,” so that could be an option. But with more stipulations come more ways to worm around them: Public importance can be subjective.

I laud SB 255’s intention, but it’s not very efficient at protecting the people it wants to protect. I’m not even sure if the bill or more expanded versions of it should exist, what with other resources that victims have (civil tort actions, statutes against extortion, takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the fact that photos you take are under your copyright) and the potential issues of broader laws. We’ll be hearing more about it soon, though, as other states consider whether to pass laws of their own and as the antirevenge-porn crew heads to Washington to lobby for a stronger federal law. The question: How do we, or should we, regulate the coldest delivery of revenge of all — one served cyber?

Vi Nguyen writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @yonictonic.

APRIL 17, 2015