Today's owner of an average connected device is able to document his or her life and share it with anyone, anywhere. Sharing has become so easy that we rarely give a second thought as to whether certain information is worth sharing; we trust the sharing platform entirely. We upload tons of photos from holidays, publish angry/excited updates on things we find interesting and important, and often share intimate stories with our new online friends and real-life acquaintances.
However, the Internet is not a safe harbour, where you can keep your personal data, secrets, or media archive safe. The fact that people don't understand this simple truth is a problem of gigantic proportions.
What is sexting?
'Sexting' as a definition has been around for around 10 years. Derived from 'sex' and 'texting' it refers to sharing intimate data, whether in the form of text messages, photos or videos.
Technology today has made sexting an effort-free leisure activity. The only thing you need to do is snap a picture and send it in one tap via instant messaging apps (such as WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat and Skype) personal messages on social networks or any other means of online sharing.
However, according to Sex and Tech, recent research conducted in 2015 by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 15 per cent of teenagers and 13 per cent of young people have sexted people they know only online but have never met in real life. What's more, 75 per cent of teenagers and 71 per cent of young people acknowledge sexting might have serious consequences.
How bad could it be?
The danger of sexting can be explained quite simply: private pictures, video and text that were once personal might lose their privacy altogether. Today's communication channels enable quick sharing, but defy any control of the data as soon as it's been shared.
A victim may not necessarily know immediately that their private photos have leaked online. The photos might resurface weeks, months or even years after they were taken. Once they find way to the Internet, the consequences might be serious. For example, the compromised content might be used for blackmailing, regardless of the age of the person whose data it is.
If private photos are compromised, they might find their way on to pornographic websites and resurface there. This might not only damage the victim's online image, but also create serious problems in real life.
One nasty consequence of compromising intimate photos is cyber-bullying - a growing problem in society. If a teenager's naked photo is circulated among the peers or is found on a pornogrpahic site, it might lead to the victim being taunted or bullied - sometimes with tragic consequences.
Parents should also understand the consequences of sexting and explain to their children that it might endanger their reputation, relationship and even future career.
To shield your child from potential disaster, establish the following DON'Ts:
• DON'T send intimate photos to strangers, even if they insist.
• DON'T use sexting to attract someone you have a crush on.
• DON'T send naked photos or sexts as a joke. It's not a joking matter!
• DON'T try to get an influx of 'likes' by posting a compromising photo on a social network page.
• DON'T trade a naked picture in exchange for another. If you've already send a picture to someone you care about, warn them about the consequences and ask them to delete the picture from all the devices it was synced with. If you are afraid to offend a person who asks you for private photos, try to turn it into a joke: but in any case, don't be drawn into sending it.
What to do if photos have already been made public
• If the victim is your child, do you best to make them understand that it's not their fault and it's not the end of the world. Never punish them - this is the moment when they need you most.
• Regardless of the platform the compromising photos were published on (whether a social network or a pornogrpahic website), contact the site's administration team and report that your personal information was published without your consent. In this case, the site has a responsibility to delete this information.
• If none of the above helps, check the relevant data protection regulations on the web site of the Information Commissioner's Office and/or seek legal advice.
There are no dedicated sexting laws in the UK, but the law considers erotic pictures of an underage person to be 'child pornography', and it is illegal for anyone, even if they are under-age, to distribute such content.
It's also illegal to store sexual images of underage individuals.
Sexting is a widespread and dangerous phenomenon that might have dreadful consequences for both teenagers and adults. It's important to remember that when you use today's means of communication, there's no guarantee that your data will be secure.
With that in mind, the best advice is not to take intimate pictures at all! No content, no problem. Explain to your children that going online is just like going outside and ask them if they would go outside naked. Encourage them to think through these questions for themselves, while making it clear that you are there to help and advise: this makes it more likely that they will realise the significance of sexting.
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