Yahoo invites you to "get the look" of Afghan birthday party massacre aftermath

Online marketing fail

Yahoo's feature allowing readers to buy clothing worn by celebrities straight from the site clearly has a few kinks to iron out. Law professor Rebecca Tushnet reported that the site was offering readers the chance to "get the look" of:

A man holding spent .50 calibre shells look[ing] towards the Spozhmai Hotel on Qargha lake on the outskirts of Kabul on June 22, following an attack by Taliban militants.

Apparently a plaid scarf from EXPRESS (just $19.95), as well as a pair of $275 Prada sandals, is what is needed:

Yahoo have since taken the ad down, telling paidContent, who also reported the story, that:

In an effort to enhance the consumer experience with some new image-tagging technology on Yahoo! News, we experienced a mistagged photo. The photo in question was immediately flagged as inappropriate and the tag was removed.

"Immediately" is a moderately strange way of referring to three days. Tushnet first posted the pic on the 22nd, and it was still up when paidContent reported it on the 25th. More worrying, however, is that the process is not yet fully automated.

Computers may be good, but they aren't that good; it remains someone's job to actually link the pictures to the clothes. Between this and previous mishaps, like when readers of the National Inquirer were offered the chance to get the look of Elizabeth Edwards as she revealed that she was dying of cancer:

Or readers of US celeb mag Star were offered the chance to get the look of Nick Hogan, the son of wrestler Hulk Hogan, who had left a friend with serious brain damage following a car crash:

One would think that maybe the humans in the chain ought to be given a tiny bit more discretion. Or at the very least, filter out keywords like "massacre", "cancer" and "traumatic brain injury".

Oh dear, Yahoo. Oh dear.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Chinese loan sharks are using nudes as collateral. Is this the grim future of revenge porn?

The economics of shame. 

When female students in Guangdong, a southern province in China, applied for a small loan, they were met with a very specific demand. Send naked photos of yourself holding your ID cards, they were told – or you won’t get the money. If you don’t pay up, we’ll make the photos public.

This is according to Nandu Daily, the area’s local newspaper, but has also been reported by the Associated Press and the Financial Times. The FT places the trend in the context of the Chinese economy, where peer to peer lending sites like Jiedaibao, the platform where the students allegedly contacted the lenders, are common. Thanks to the country’s slowing economy, the paper argues, lenders are increasingly intent on making sure they’ll be repaid.

As a result, there have also been reports of property destruction and even beatings by loan sharks. Part of the problem is that these are unregulated lenders who operate through an online platform. In this case, Jiedaibao says the agreement about photos was made via different communication channels, and told the FT: “This is an illegal offline trade between victims and lenders who did it by making use of the platform.” 

This new use of naked photos in this case, though, plays to the ways that shame is now used as a weapon, especially online – and the fact that it can essentially be monetised.

Revenge porn is a huge and growing problem. As Jon Ronson noted in his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the internet offers a unique space in which shamings (over a naked photo, or an unwise comment) can be transmitted all over the world almost instantly. For some, this threat is simply too much to cope with, as it was for the growing number teenagers who have committed suicide after being blackmailed with naked photos

It’s telling, too, that the students targeted with these demands were, reportedly at least, women. Most victims of revenge porn are also women. The shame brought down on women who appear in these photos is not so much about their nakedness, but the implication that they've behaved in a sexual way. In China, virginity is still highly valued in marriage, and your family and friends would likely take the spread of naked photos of you extremely seriously. In Behind the Red Door, Sex in China , Richard Burger notes:

Every year, thousands of Chinese women pay for an operation to restore their hymens shortly before their wedding so that husbands can see blood on the sheets on their honeymoon night.

The strange story of these students and their loans highlights two important points. First, as anti-loan shark campaigners have argued for decades, “free choice” in signing up to extortionate fees or demands when taking out a loan is a misnomer when you’re constrained by economic need and desperation.

But second, we can’t allow the shame around female sexuality to become a commodity. We need to both protect women's rights and persecute those who share images without consent, but also fight the stigma that makes these shamings possible in the first place. It's not acceptable that the suggestion of sexual activity can still be used to ruin women's lives.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.