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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt