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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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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