The Grim Reality of Revenge Porn

Snapchat LogoIt’s been something of a rollercoaster month for the subject of revenge porn.

At the beginning of the month, Craig Brittain, the man behind both “IsAnybodyDown” and its successor “Obama Nudes”, launched an Indiegogo campaign to try and raise $200,000 to take down his sites.

The campaign, however, was quickly shuttered after Indiegogo was made aware of it.

However, despite the failure of the Indiegogo campaign, Brittain, via Twitter, announced that he was closing the sites regardless and, as of this writing, both of his domains appear to be offline. However, it is worth noting that Brittain has done this before, closing his site and feigning remorse only to reopen it elsewhere.

But where one operator (may have) shut down, another one seems to have sprung up. Yesterday it was revealed that a new site named “Snapchat Leaks” appeared on the Web, specializing in sharing formerly-private photos and videos shared over Snapchat. Perhaps most unnervingly, the site attracted over half a million followers on Facebook before the page was closed down (though Snapchat Leaked told The Metro it was simply unpublished due to a bullying issue).

Snapchat Leaked itself is also offline, though it claims it’s because of excessive traffic. The home page currently redirects to a spam advertisement. (Note: After the first draft of this post that spam advertisement ceased working too and now displays an error page for Webs.com.)

But even if the site is offline permanently, it’s appearance and quick rise to popularity illustrates a key problem with revenge porn, a problem similar to that of piracy: Where there’s an audience, there’s someone who is willing to serve it, ethics and legality be dammed.

A Canary in the Coal Mine

The simple truth is this, even if Brittain’s sites and Snapchat Leaked stay offline, other sites will, inevitably, rise up to fill the void. As Snapchat Leaked’s interest on Facebook showed, there is an audience for these types of sites and, if anything, it’s grown since these sites began cropping up.

This means that, for every site that is sued out of existence or otherwise forced to close, others will take their place. You hear these arguments all the time when dealing with pirate websites. It’s often referred to as playing “Wac-a-Mole”. It’s the grim reality that copyright holders have been faced with for over a decade though now it’s becoming an even more grim reality for regular individuals who want to keep their private content off the public Web.

At this point, when talking about piracy, the conversation often turns to putting pirate sites out of business by creating a better service and meeting customer needs betters.

But even if those arguments have some legitimacy when dealing with pirated content, they don’t work for revenge porn. There’s no way to serve the revenge porn audience legitimately as there is not supposed to be an audience at all for the work. This isn’t a commercial interest being violated, but a privacy interest being violated for commercial gain.

In short, it’s possible that, in many ways, copyright has been something of a canary in the coal mine. If large, international companies have been unable to do more than slow the widespread, unlawful and unwanted consumption of their works, what hopes do individuals have when their rights are violated in much more serious ways?

Legally, there might be a great deal of recourse. But as the fight against piracy showed us, that recourse is not always practical.

The Revenge Pornographers Are Moving Forward

Brittain and most of the other revenge porn sites are certainly sinister, but they are not particularly creative. They’re simply clones or near-clones of earlier sites, even parroting their names.

Snapchat Leaked, however, is more targeted. It’s aimed at one service, Snapchat, and it doesn’t just represent a betrayal to the people who appear on the site, but also of the service itself. Snapchat, on a fundamental level, is meant to be about privacy, even if that privacy is flawed. The fact that a site would target it not only shows an intent to capitalize on Snapchat’s name, but also its community.

In short, if Snapchat Leaked is an indication of anything, it’s an indication that these sites are evolving, diversifying and growing more brazen. This means, for victims of these kinds of sites, things are only going to get worse from here.

I strongly suspect that Snapchat Leaked is not the end of a trend, whether it comes back or not, but the start of one. And it is an ugly trend that is going to make victims of many people.

Bottom Line

The reason I write all of this is both to provide warning and to provide some perspective. It’s easy to laugh and talk about how naive rightsholders are when you look at musicians that can’t keep their music off of Grooveshark or pirated movies off of torrent sites. However, it feels very different when you’re talking about someone’s personal photos and videos.

The point isn’t to equate pirate sites with revenge porn sites, but to acknowledge that the challenges in fighting the two sites are largely similar and, unfortunately, looking at the history, the odds are stacked against the victims in the long run.

When it’s just a commercial right at stake, it’e easy for many to dismiss the problem as a non-issue or just an issue that doesn’t affect them. However, one of the fastest-growing groups of people that have been asking me for help over the past two years have not been artists dealing with piracy, bloggers battling plagiarists or any of my traditional audiences, but rather, normal people who have had personal works leaked online, whether on revenge porn sites or elsewhere.

When we talk about who is a content creator, it’s important to remember that regardless of how we define the term, almost anyone can be violated.

As the rise in revenge porn sites has shown. If there is an audience for a type of content, no matter how vile or legally dubious, there will be an attempt to meet that need, regardless of who gets hurt.

That’s a part of human nature that wasn’t created by the Internet but an element that was given a whole new reach and a whole new ability to impact others. Worst of all, the problem is not going away any time soon.

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