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Facebook just released a new tool to combat revenge porn

You might have noticed a new button on your Facebook page that allows you to report intimate, naked or humiliating photos posted without consent. Here's how it works, and what privacy experts think.

Facebook revenge porn

Facebook is training a team devoted to spotting photos shared non-consensually. (Facebook)

It’s one of the greatest nightmares of the digital age: discovering a naked photo or video of yourself online without your permission — and then having to fight to get it taken down.

Emma Watson, Amanda Seyfried and Mischa Barton have had to deal with this new reality of the camera-phone era, as have many other women, who often find themselves frustrated as they seek help from authorities who aren’t equipped to deal with cyberspace crimes. Some victims are hauling social media networks and websites to civil court for failing to remove these images and block them for good.

Now, at least one social media juggernaut is taking a step to address the problem: Facebook just launched new tools to combat the phenomenon known as revenge porn, after hearing feedback during nine women’s safety roundtables across India, Kenya, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. “It became clear to us during these conversations that we had an opportunity to help keep people safe,” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Head of Global Safety, told ChatelaineHere’s how the new strategy works, and what a outside internet privacy expert has to say about it.

What exactly is revenge porn?
Revenge porn is any intimate photo or video taken in confidence and shared without consent. It’s usually meant to embarrass, extort or distress the person in the photo. A recent survey published by the Data & Society Research Institute found one in 25 Americans has been a victim of such threats or posts. 

You may have heard of it a few years ago, when Canadian teens Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd killed themselves after sexually explicit images of them were distributed online (Todd’s alleged cyber bully is living in the Netherlands and was just cleared for extradition to Canada, where he’ll face prosecution.) Their deaths led Canada to criminalize the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

Todd’s abuser distributed the photos via a fake Facebook account and, more recently, members of the U.S. Marine Corps also used the social media network to post images of ex-girlfriends, civilians and women in the service without the women’s consent, raising the question…

… What is Facebook going to do about it?
The platform has introduced a new option: When you click “report photo” on any image and select “I don’t think it should be on Facebook,” a new category will come up in the “nudity” section on the next page, allowing you to specify that it is an intimate photo posted without your consent. 

The company partnered with groups like The Revenge Porn Helpline in the UK and The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, plus domestic violence organizations, to train a team devoted to spotting photos shared non-consensually.

They’ll analyze the shot or video to determine: Is it indeed you in the photo? Does it look like it was taken in an intimate setting? Are there signs that the photo was taken or posted with the intention of exploitation?

If the answer is yes, Facebook will remove the image, may even disable the poster’s account, and deploy photo-matching technology to track the photo should it reappear on any new Facebook accounts or on other Facebook-owned platforms, including Messenger and Instagram (Facebook also owns messaging service WhatsApp, but won’t deploy it there just yet).

The company has also beefed up resources, including a support section offering more information to help victims take next steps. 

Will this really make a difference?
Yes, says Canadian internet and privacy lawyer David Fraser, who has represented victims of revenge porn. His clients’ primary concern is having the photos taken down — and ensuring they never crop up again, which is the aim of this new function on Facebook.

He adds that Facebook is a particularly humiliating platform on which to unleash revenge porn because the victim’s friends, family and colleagues will see the photo. “That is the intended harm of a lot of this stuff,” he says, “so hearing Facebook is implementing a system that addresses a number of those mischiefs really does seem like a significant step forward in addressing this problem.”

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