Exhibitionism is one of the defining traits of today’s society. We have access to every imaginable way to take pictures, store them, upload them, share them and comment on them.
Any moment of our personal and private lives can be shared online instantly, publicly or privately, voluntarily or involuntarily, at the click of a button. It is extremely easy to lose control over our content, and that loss of control can have tremendous impact in our lives.
What is sexting?
The term sexting is a mashup of two words: “sex” and “texting“. Sexting means sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs or images through a device.
Regarding the applications of new technologies, sexting is considered as a risky practice, especially when it involves teenagers. Regardless, the truth is that sexting is becoming an increasingly popular practice.
For this reason, it is essential to be aware of the risks that sexting entails and how to prevent them.
Risks hiding in plain sight
There are different ways of losing control over our pictures, regardless of whether we share them privately, publicly, or just store them in our handsets.
- Social media platforms allow us to capture, upload and share all sorts of content, whether it belongs to us or to anyone else. Anybody can do this without even asking for permission or warning the original owner. All it takes is for somebody we’ve privately shared a picture with to share it with somebody else. That’s how easily an undesired situation can spiral out of control.
- We sync our phones with cloud services to automatically back up our images. These services can be hacked. Many celebrities have been affected by breaches of this kind and had their private images leaked.
- Personal privacy is also compromised in the case of theft or loss of the phone.
- Even if the subject’s face can’t be seen in a picture, it is possible to obtain personal details of the owners from the file's metadata.
Regardless, the truth is that sexting is becoming an increasingly popular practice.
- Breaches of privacy and damages to reputation and personal integrity. Having a personal picture leaked to the public can have dramatic and life-altering consequences for anybody. For teenagers, whose reputation and identity are strongly linked to their social media profiles, the consequences can be devastating, especially considering estimates that say 75% of teenagers engage in sexting.
- Blackmail or sextorsion: Is one of the most dangerous consequences of sexting. Sextorters can blackmail victims threatening to circulate their pictures, unless they send them more explicit ones, sexual videos or agree to meet somewhere. This was the case of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who sadly decided to end her life after being constant and repeatedly blackmailed by a person she had trusted, who threatened her with providing her friend with some topless pictures of Amanda.
- Posting of images in porn websites. A sizeable percentage of the content available on porn pages and Internet forums are images and videos hacked from social media websites. The professional and personal impact of these breaches can be dire for those affected.
Tips to avoid the unwanted consequences of sexting
- Never share compromising or intimate pictures with strangers. Even people that seem trustworthy can turn out to be stalkers or end up using those images inappropriately.
- Never share intimate pictures through messaging platforms, even with your partner/spouse, friend or acquaintances. You can never be 100% certain that they will not share them with someone else, or post them in a social network.
- It isn’t advisable either to send body pictures because, even if the subject’s face is not visible, it is possible to determine his/her identity from the owner’s location and smartphone details stored in the file’s metadata.
- Never share intimate or personal images on social media to boost your popularity, because one can never know who’s going to end up having access to them and how they will use them.
- It is not advisable to store intimate images in your smartphone. It is not a secure medium, and if it gets stolen, lost or hacked, your images will be compromised.
What to do if you’re being sextorted
The first thing one should do is to get in touch with the administrators of the social network to have them remove all harmful posts. All social media platforms have channels for reporting posts and users, and are particularly sensitive to these practices, which are also hugely detrimental to their business.
The second step is to gather as many screenshots and evidence as possible to report the situation to law enforcement agencies, such as the Policía Nacional or the Digital Crime Unit of the Guardia Civil in Spain.
It is essential to raise awareness about the risks and consequences of sexting especially among teenagers.
Education and consciousness-raising are essential to ensure a safe and proper use of new technologies and avoid the undesired consequences of certain practices.
BBVA has for some time now been offering awareness-raising seminars for families, promoting the safe and responsible use of new technologies and addressing the biggest threats associated to unsafe practices, such as sexting.