Facebook is trialing a technology that it hopes will stop revenge porn. Victims of the crime are asked to send the original nude or compromising photos to Facebook which will then use technology to recognize and block before it gets shared again.
The technology is currently being trialed in Australia and it's expected to be expanded to include the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Canada soon. The technology requires a huge amount of trust from people who are asked to send nude photos in order to stop harassment.
The system works by victims contacting Facebook via its system partner, in the UK this is Revenge Porn Helpline. They will then contact Facebook on your behalf who will send a link to you to upload the photo.
Facebook creates unique image fingerprint
Once uploaded the photo is given a unique digital fingerprint - something called hashing. That code is then stored in a database and if other photos with that fingerprint are recognized they are blocked before they can be shared across social media sites.
The original photos are not stored and Facebook says only a small group of highly trained staff view the original image. Facebook's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis admits there's "no 100% guarantee when it comes to photo-matching technologies".
Images that have been digitally altered to make them different from the original may slip through the system. But Davis says the system is improving all the time.
Unfortunately the system also only works if you have a copy of the image you are worried about. Photos taken by another person that you’d don’t have access to can’t be blocked.
Revenge Porn Hotline getting more reports each year
The UK based Revenge Porn Hotline has been operating since 2015, it received 50 reports in its first year and 1000 reports in 2017. Revenge porn is commonly defined as ‘the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.”
In most cases, the revenge is being exacted by an ex-partner who wants to get back after a bad breakup. Afroditi Pina, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Kent University, conducted a study on revenge porn and found that there were certain common traits associated with those that commit the crime.
These people often exhibit a general lack of empathy for others and have few concerns about hurtful or questionable behavior in others. Women are most often the victims of this crime, but getting criminal help can be very difficult.
Difficult to prosecute for revenge crimes
There are thirty states in the U.S. that have laws against non-consensual disclosure of sexually explicit images and videos, but because these laws are relatively new it can be difficult to apply them. Carrie Goldberg, a New York attorney and a director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, says, “Because almost all the laws are so new, law enforcement are still getting the hang of how to apply them."
Goldberg goes on to say, "At our firm, we have so many cases where (complainants) go to law enforcement and are turned away, even in states that have the criminal law." If you are a victim of revenge porn, seek legal advice immediately.