The singer Tulisa Contostavlos took action against an ex-boyfriend for releasing a sex tape after their break-up. Photo: Getty
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Revenge porn has become too profitable to go away

The constant presence of digital technology in our lives is commercially profitable but at the cost of what we understand to be “private”.

The recent calls for legislation to prohibit revenge pornography – sexually explicit media of unwitting people shared online without their consent, often as punishment for a break up – are not surprising. Neither are the claims that this form of pornography is on the rise. In the US, states are already moving to ban it.

These public statements reinforce the fact that a new commercial category has been created which makes revenge porn a legitimate and real “thing”. This new attention promotes revenge porn from the realms of the Rule 34 meme (if it exists there is pornography of it) to a business reality that falls far outside any ethical or corporate social responsibility agenda.

With a definable economic value being placed on these images they now have wider meaning and currency with the real prospect of increasing the harm they cause. In the commercialised air of internet matchmaking and dating, building a business model that offers financial reward at the terminal point of a relationship may cynically appear to be the logical conclusion to the extraction of profit from all aspects of human relations.

Although some of the businesses engaging with revenge porn websites appear to employ business practices that strongly echo those of blackmail.

The adult entertainment industry has been a driver for many of the most popular online inventions that we all use, and this constant innovation in technology is mirrored by the development of new business opportunities. The continuous invention of new categories of pornography is a key process for the adult industry to commercialise its content and take it mainstream.

The definition of a new category – even if the actual text, images or videos existed before – is a classic marketing trick. Such differentiation is found wherever businesses deal directly with consumers. Research shows we are enthusiastic consumers of apparently new products even if the experience is largely determined by new labelling. For solely digital products the “new packaging” is largely reduced to a new search engine keyword combination.

For commercial pornography websites there is no “off” switch: the process of creating new categories will continue as long as there are still advertisers and subscribers willing to support their latest creations.

It is this inevitable commercial process, coupled with the obvious personal distress that revenge porn causes, that helps to explain calls for specific legislation and the existing revenge porn laws found in a number of US states – despite the claims that they are unconstitutional – as well as Australia and Israel.

However, the proposed UK law and those already in force all focus primarily on the distributors of the imagery. This is a potentially difficult burden of proof in a culture seemingly obsessed with “selfies” of all descriptions (which themselves are not included in the Californian version of the revenge porn law) and with the collective ability to rapidly capture and disseminate digital imagery. None of the laws contemplates the prospect of also banning advertisers or subscribers from websites that include the revenge porn category.

What is easily lost in these calls for legislation is how technology has placed the tools and means to produce pornography in anyone’s hands. Coupled with the constant invitation to “participate” there is a subtle but constant pressure to produce content of regardless of its merits.

The rise of revenge porn as the action of disgruntled ex-partners and as a commercial category raises much wider questions about our collective willingness to participate in – for want of a better word – risqué activities in front of a recording device. This raises the question, to what extent can limited consent continue to have meaning in the presence of a camera? And in what way should dubious “private” images of ourselves be held against us in ten years time?

Revenge porn has brought into the mainstream a specific form of pornography that did not even recognisably exist ten years ago. The constant presence of digital technology in our lives is commercially profitable but potentially at the cost of what we understand to be “private”.

The ConversationGordon Fletcher receives funding from the Technology Strategy Board.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gordon Fletcher is a member of the Centre for Digital Business, Salford Business School and a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at the University of Salford.

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Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism