/ 18 January 2019

Online nude, offline problem

Although anyone can fall victim to revenge porn
Although anyone can fall victim to revenge porn (there have been cases of a dick pic or two roaming the Twitter streets), the overwhelming majority of victims are women.


Love it or hate it: people are sending nudes on their cellphones. Studies have shown that 50% of adults have either shared or received “intimate content” on their phones — and those are the ones who care to admit it to researchers.

Technology is changing the courting game, moving us away from love letters and lockets to snippets of snatch, pictures of penis and shots of side boob. Everyone is getting in on the game. Platforms such as SnapChat and Instagram provide features that make photos disappear and we all know what that is being used for.

People love a good consensual sexy pic.

Much as the ol’ spread-and-snap can be fun, flirty and sexy, one must always remember: the cloud and the ex are not always your friends. Technology can bring out the best and worst in people and the world of internet-based intimacy is no different. A case in point is revenge porn, which is the nonconsensual sharing of someone’s nudes. It is a form of sexual violence and harassment, as well as of cyberbullying.

As one person put it: “Depriving [a person] of ownership over their bodies is the whole premise of revenge porn — it’s literally taking away control and giving access to her body to thousands, even millions, of people.”

Although anyone can fall victim to revenge porn (there have been cases of a dick pic or two roaming the Twitter streets), the overwhelming majority of victims are women.

And although some argue that “the online space is not the real world”, the consequences of having your intimate photos leaked have real-world consequences. There are cases of people losing their jobs, as was seen in a case in Zambia when a man’s series of sex tapes was found and leaked by the person fixing his computer. There is even the threat of arrest, as was seen in Uganda when a singer’s nude photos were leaked by an ex and the government called for her arrest. Right here in South Africa it is hard to forget the viral videos, the most recent of which was of a schoolgirl that was leaked by her boyfriend and his friends.

Needless to say the cyberbullying and backlash that comes with this happening to you can have dire consequences on your mental and emotional health. Furthermore, revenge porn is often posted with sensitive information such as a full name, email address, social media profiles, and even home addresses and this can put people in physical danger and subject them to further abuse.

The body of advice given to combat revenge porn is to “protect yourself” or simply “don’t send nudes”. Although the second option takes all the fun and spice out of life, the first feeds into a school of thought that allows people to blame the victims of revenge porn. This victim blaming is a key component of rape culture — “you are the reason it happened to you”.

If you are going to send safe(ish) nudes, how should you go about it?

Granted, there are hurdles to making sure your content is protected, such as the infamous screen grab and your potential amour turning out to be a parasite who thinks sharing is caring. But there are some steps you can take to mitigate any potential fallout.

The most widespread piece of advice is “keep your face out of it”. Another version of this is “eyes or the prize”, wherein you either place your face in the shot or put whatever goodies you want seen. Following on from this is avoiding distinguishing markers such as moles, tattoos and birthmarks that can be traced back to you. Using photo editing apps to blur out some tell-tale markers is also something you can do to protect yourself. Avoid shots in places that are clear indicators of your life, such as in front of the posters in your bedroom or family pictures in your living room.

One of the key elements of sending nudes is that it involves more than just you. This means that there is a certain element of trust and negotiation with another person and, in picking the person you send nudes to, trust is a key component.

When you send a nude to someone, it should be the sort of person you can trust to protect you. This could also involve some form of contractual agreement or even having an in-depth conversation about how the material will be handled and stored. Sure, this cuts out the reckless fun of sending anonymous Tinder nudes, but it minimises the risk of being exposed. But, if trust is tenuous, one trick is to place some sort of watermark on your pictures, especially if you are sending them to multiple people. That way you can identify who the source of the leak is, if necessary.

Sending nudes can be fun, but it should always be coupled with the thought that this online activity could have offline consequences. No one is saying, do not have a little fun, but, like any sexual act, safety and consent should be at the heart of it.

Kagure Mugo is the cofounder and full-time curator of HOLAAfrica!