Somehow, before this century, I managed to get my work done using paper mail in actual envelopes and fax machines. Email and pdfs were a relatively new thing, shiny new toys that started making things a helluva lot easier. Upon reflection, I can’t fathom how I got any work done, without Facebook, Twitter, and RRS feeds constantly providing me with VITAL INFORMATION.
Back then, staring back and forth between faxes with corrections scribbled on them to pdfs with virtual sticky notes, I sat across from a coworker who seemed to grasp new web technologies faster than I did. Maybe it was because she was using them for dating and porn, industries that are known for understanding and profiting from new tech before most others. She would send explicit clips and photos of herself to prospective dates (seriously, this person is not me). Back then it was a fairly innocuous practice, without much online risk.
Now, it’s not so simple. As soon as you hit ‘send,’ there’s a pretty good chance that whatever it is, it’s going to be seen by someone other than your intended recipient. Like their BFF or their 346 Twitter followers or their 987 Facebook ‘friends.’ You can’t even trust the false privacy promised by dating sites – I’ve seen many a tweet from someone who screengrabbed their prospective OKCupid courtier’s photos or quoted their quips, simply for mockery to be shared far and wide across the Twitterverse. There is just no such thing as online privacy. Terms of Service agreements in regards to what’s legal and what’s postable are jokes. These contracts are simply in place to cover the platform’s ass, not yours.
With the explosion of all the deliciously enticing ways of spreading your digital seed – dating sites, chat, text, Instagram, etc – and with legislation not being able to keep up, it’s no wonder we’re inundated with stories like those of Amanda Todd, the Big Three going nuts over piracy, dudes getting blackmailed by porn sites for their lascivious Skype calls, and douchebags posting your photos and home address in acts of vengeance for being dumped.
So how do we as creators of pixelated trails keep our dignity? Either don’t share anything online that you wouldn’t want your 11-year-old niece to see, or if you do, prepare to face consequences. If you release something into the digital wild, you must own that shit.
The latter option is of course, the easiest, as there is always the possibility that someone will take your photo surreptitiously, not matter how hard you try to not be in the digital realm(virtually impossible when everyone owns some kind of handheld device with a camera, and roommates can plug into your phone to steal your photos). Until the law is finally able to catch up with exponentially growing communications tools (is it even possible to ever be ahead of the growth?), we’re going to have to learn how to deal with what comes. When your lover videotapes your roll through the hotel sheets, covered in plastic wrap and spewing Jell-O on an escort, you better place a sticky note on the back of your brain that says “someone may see this later.” And when it inevitably hits the web, be prepared to say “yep; that’s me and boy do my tits look amazing.”
Taking ownership of our online presence is a step toward taking ownership of our physical presence. Tabloids and their following’s delight in ‘nip slips’ shows that a hefty portion of society still views body parts as taboo and something at which to giggle. Once we start telling those trolls to just fucking deal with it, they’ll start to lose interest. Boredom sets in when situations don’t reach scandal pitch, and trolls will move on to the next unsuspecting poor sap who isn’t qualified enough to deal with the shame machine.
The risks now associated with our virtual profile are getting seedier and uglier. When ten years ago a breakup meant you never had to hear from your ex again, now could mean your Facebook pics wind up on a ‘revenge porn’ site like HunterMoore.tv. Moore, contestant for Asshole of the Year, is previously responsible for IsAnyoneUp, where exes could post photos as payback for sleeping with them (or not sleeping with them). His new project comes with the still-to-be-confirmed-because-even-he-can’t-decide-how-much-of-shitbag-he-should-be added bonus of being able to post the address of the unsuspecting publicity victim. Should you discover your new internet stardom, you can ask to be removed from the site (like it never happened!). There’s a certain ring in hell for the Moores of the world.
The main reason that sites like this thrive is because society continues to put heavy pressure on keeping our bodies and sexual agencies taboo. It’s especially difficult for girls and women who are conditioned to be ashamed to share anything but our chastity. What struck me recently while watching a documentary on MMA fighting is the ludicrously obvious example that sums up society quite neatly: while boys and men are championed, trained and rewarded for pushing their bodies to the limit, for bashing the shit out of each other and for perpetuating the idea that men are aggressors by nature, girls and women cannot do the same with what society has told them their bodies are for: sex. And all with the added message that violence will trump pleasure. So women’s status gets stuffed into a box, we can’t profit from it, and when we try, we’re shamed and shut down.
I’m not saying that you should be publicly touting all your sexual proclivities. We’ll truly never get to the stage where no fetish will be taboo, nor do we need to share everything. But we need to be considerate of who we share with.
I have to teach these things to my son – that an unfortunate side-effect of an ever-expanding world means one can never expect privacy, no matter what promises are made; that we need to be comfortable with what we put out and what we ask of others; that our actions have consequences. Most importantly for me: that stigma and shame are constructs that can be broken down.
If you take a pic of yourself, if you let someone else do it, or if you post an online profile, don’t be fooled into thinking that it will remain private or within the confines of a specific platform. Because someone will inevitably post it and/or twist it, so be prepared to own it.
Got a question about sex in art, relationships, parenting? Send Sonya a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity assured.