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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Chuka Umunna: Why tolerance is not enough

Against the Trumpification of politics.

It’s still spring, yet 2016 already stands out as one of the ugliest years in modern British political history. It was fantastic to see Londoners choosing hope over fear in May, electing Sadiq Khan as our first Muslim mayor. But David Cameron, having shamelessly endorsed Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle campaign tactics, owes those young Muslims who have been put off politics by the slurs hurled at Khan an explanation. How does racial profiling and sectarian scaremongering fit into his One Nation vision for Britain?

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, one of the best bets to succeed Cameron as our next prime minister, embarrassed Britain on the world stage with a racially charged allusion to Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage. And my own party has been grappling with a swath of deeply disturbing revelations regarding the attitudes held by some on the left towards Israel and Jewish people. Sowing discord by stigmatising or scapegoating a single faith group or community is profoundly at odds with the British tradition of “tolerance”, but we can’t ignore that this year’s events are part of a rising trend of friction and factionalism.

Last year’s general election should have been a wake-up call. The political and cultural divides between people living in the north and south and urban and rural areas – as well as between working-class and metropolitan sensibilities – appear starker than ever. In May’s devolved elections, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish politics became yet more distinct – giving the impression of a kingdom coming apart at the seams. All the while, more and more voices in our national politics seek to pin the blame for the challenges facing our country on a single section of society, whether immigrants, Muslims or another group.

This trend stretches beyond our borders. From Ukip, the French Front National and Austria’s Freedom Party to Podemos in Spain and Italy’s Five Star Movement, new populist parties of the right and left are on the rise across Europe. In the United States, Bernie Sanders is tapping into the energy of Occupy Wall Street, while Donald Trump has emerged as the heir to the Tea Party: a poster boy for division and recrimination.

Trump’s rise should be a warning for us Brits. The New York Times commentator David Brooks has described his success as less indicative of the emergence of a new school of thought, or movement, and more of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Trump’s campaign has tapped into a complex cocktail of grievances, from the loss of manufacturing jobs in a globalised economy to rising inequality and raw anger felt by many white working-class Americans at demographic and cultural changes.

In the run-up to last year’s general election, as I travelled around the country, I was confronted time and time again with the reality that in the UK – just like in the US – people are afraid and angry because the world is changing in ways they fear are beyond their control. Where once they had believed that, if they worked hard, they would get ahead, too many Britons now feel that the system is rigged in favour of those born into opportunity and that those in power have abandoned them to a broken future. What it means to be British seems to have shifted around them, triggering a crisis of solidarity.

We are at a crossroads and may face nothing less than the Trumpification of British politics. In an uncertain and changing world, it is all too easy to imagine that our problems are caused by those who are different from us.

If we wish to follow the fine example set by Londoners on 5 May and choose unity and empathy over division and blame, we must accept that simply “tolerating” one another will no longer do. There is an accusation built into the very word: what you are doing is “other” or “wrong”. As Britain has become more diverse, we have come to know each other less. This makes it harder to understand how people from different walks of life feel about the big issues.

I am a Labour member because I believe, as it says on our membership cards, that, by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more together than we do alone. In order to develop the bonds of trust required for this to become a reality, and for our communities to flourish and our democracy to deliver for everyone, we must build a society in which people from all backgrounds actually get to know one another and lead interconnected lives. In this sense, “One Nation” – the land over which all parties seek purchase – should become more than a platitude. It should become a way of life.

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad