My phone beeped. I was sloughing away on a location in the early morning and didn’t have the patience to be doing much more than getting my can of energy drink to my lips while making sure everything around me was going smoothly. Is this person in the right light? Check. Is the sound going to show up on this recording? Check. Oh, right, and my phone — I should check.
It was an old friend with a message asking if something was me or not and a link. I’d seen this phishing trick a million times, a friend’s account gets hacked and an innocuous message from them with a link is a trapping to get your personal information, so I ignored my phone and got back to work.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that I took another look at my phone and saw that the link wasn’t an anonymous bit.ly or t.co shortened URL, it was a full address to a blog purporting to show the best in real Canadian girls. My blood went cold as I clicked the link, I had never felt so vulnerable in my entire life as I did in that moment. There on my screen was my face, my name, and my body posted for anyone to see.
Beginning with guys sending in pictures of their gals to nudie magazines in the 80s revenge porn has gone from a curiosity to a full fledged industry. The definition of revenge porn has grown from simply sharing photographs to posting images and videos, along with personal information about the subject, online. Last year over half of Canadians owned smartphones (a number that is growing) and that means unlike in the days of yore we all have a high quality camera and immediate access to MMS, e-mail, and social networks at the tip of our fingers. Even for those of us who have no intention of sharing photos of any kind we still keep our images stored on devices with near constant wifi and 3G connections.
Many people report hacking as the start of their battle with revenge pornography — hacking was in fact the source of much of Hunter Moore’s stash on revenge porn blog IsAnyoneUp.com, a site that shut down after it became so mired in legal troubles as our laws strove to catch up to holes in our privacy.
I wasn’t so fortunate to have a villainous figure like Hunter Moore to rage against. I had no idea who was behind this blog and what they were after. Close to a thousand different people placed online for anyone to see. Worse still I could see that my post, my body, had been viewable online for almost a year without my knowledge. I was still dumbfounded when I asked my friend what this was and what to do.
She was luckily more ahead of the curve than me. She gave me a quick once over of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a tool for me to use. Most importantly she had already contacted the host of the blog (it was created using a free blogging service) and only an email address that she couldn’t make heads or tails of.
A couple of quick searches on Google and social media turned up the information I needed. The email address was associated with a familiar face. An even sicker feeling washed over me. I hadn’t been hacked, phished, or duped – I had willingly given over my photos to this person.
A year prior I had been playing around with various apps designed for dating and, erm, less than dating. Apps that are desinged with a primary focus put on your pictures are unsurprisingly a great way to have your pictures snatched. But I wasn’t that girl, at least, I didn’t think I was. I had only met up with a handful of potential suitors and of them the chats only got sexy with a smaller set.
The connection of apps, texting, calls, emails, and occasionally real face-to-face interaction with someone you find attractive can be intoxicating, and when you are conversing behind a screen it is easy to forget that when you send a photo of yourself our into cyberspace and receive a photo of another person in return that you aren’t playing at some sort of homemade porno slot machine, there is a real person on the other side whose intentions might not always be to get off.
Photos sent in the strictest confidence can’t be trusted to be deleted or stored away anymore. Pictures can be copied, posted, re-blogged, tweeted, and duplicated into infinity to the point where they are impossible to remove.
Once I knew what I was up against the road ahead seemed daunting. Lawyers I couldn’t afford preparing cases that wouldn’t end, all to get these filthy photos off the internet. But I did it. Not because legislation makes it easy or because I had any real tools available to fight for the removal of my own body off of the internet. I did it because I got lucky.
I remembered that, in my few experiences with this guy, he had mentioned his shaky immigration status and his application to be a refugee here to Canada. At the time it had seemed almost sexy that he had fled his war-torn Latin country right into my arms, but this little bit of information was my saving grace when I got him on the phone.
I let him know in plain terms, perhaps lathering on the good-cop tone a bit too much, that I wasn’t a bad guy here. I told him I believed him when he said it wasn’t him who had done this and it was a real shame that all the evidence pointed directly to him. I told him in a soothing tone that it would really suck if he couldn’t get this blog deleted because once lawyers had to get involved it would almost certainly lead to his deportation, and boy would I ever feel awful about that.
He stumbled on his lies for a little bit before I said he’d get a call tomorrow from my lawyer. After a morning dealing exclusively in cybersluething I went home, lo and behold when I clicked on the page once again expecting to see the shame of my mistrust all I got was an error page.
Not everyone is as lucky as I was, unfortunately. Real discussion and real punishment for distributors of revenge porn is beginning around the world right now, but we’ve got a long way to go before people can don’t have to worry about spectres from the past resurfacing.
I’ll never feel completely private again. In the time that post was online there’s no telling how many people saw. A lingering glance on the street could be someone who recognizes my face. A number I don’t recognize could be someone who has tracked me down. Even though the plug has been pulled on that blog the aftereffects will be in my life for a long time.