Emma Watson and Mischa Barton’s Online Privacy Invasion Is a Scary Wakeup Call
Categories: Tech

Emma Watson and Mischa Barton’s Online Privacy Invasion Is a Scary Wakeup Call

This week, The O.C. actress Mischa Barton revealed that she has been a victim of revenge porn. As we’ve seen recently with celebs from Leslie Jones to Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and, just yesterday, Emma Watson, too often there’s a creep who will share photos of women with the public in order to shame and humiliate them.

Sharing sexually explicit photos of someone else without their permission is called revenge porn. Sometimes the photos aren’t necessarily sent to another person, but sit in online storage where they can be hacked. But many times, revenge porn is distributed by ex-partners looking to shame or intimidate their exes, and that’s what Barton says she’s dealing with right now.

According to TMZ, Barton claims her ex-boyfriend used a hidden camera to take nude images of her, which he then tried to sell to porn sites. Gross.

The rich and famous are not the only ones vulnerable to having their private photos exposed, however. According to a 2014 study from McAfee, almost 50 percent of adults use their phones to send “intimate content” to others. That means about half of us are walking around with sensitive photos that someone could expose without consent.

While women should not have to fear that their naked bodies will be seen by anyone without their consent and there’s nothing wrong with taking and sharing nude photos, there’s never any guarantee a malicious hacker or vindictive ex won’t violate women’s rights to privacy.

Unfortunately, women who are victimized by revenge porn often suffer negative emotional consequences. In a 2015 study that examined the experiences of female revenge porn victims, women reported feeling embarrassed, humiliated, and fearful after intimate images of them were exposed. Some of the women experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and became suicidal.

Fortunately, most (though not all) states have laws that address revenge porn. Thirty-five states and Washington DC have legislation on the books that give rights to victims of revenge porn. But that leaves a startling 15 states whose victims have no clear legal recourse.

Apart from reporting revenge porn to the police and seeking legal action in states where victims have legal rights, there are other actions that victims can take to have their photos removed from the internet.

Know your rights

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, the first step is to check out the policies of the platform where the images were shared. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have clear policies surrounding nudity on their sites, for example, so do a little bit of research and report the photos to the site. CCRI also recommends documenting the revenge porn (take screenshots) so a full account is available, in case you want to take legal action.

Dr. Charlotte Laws, author, revenge porn victims advocate, and former revenge porn victim herself, tells us over email that there are myriad steps victims can take. Along with the CCRI’s suggestions, Laws says you can contact search engines to have private images removed from searches as well. Laws also advises victims to put pressure on anyone and everyone involved with the revenge porn: Contact the site’s host company, and friends and family members of the person who published the revenge porn, and urge them to help you get the images taken down.

For those who want to pursue legal action, Laws says that there are lawyers who will take revenge porn cases pro-bono, and support groups that can offer additional advice and guidance. The CCRI is a great resource too.

Laws also says that there are actions anyone can take to safeguard their privacy from would-be revenge porn perpetrators. “Put a Google alert on your name and take screenshots of all evidence and harassment,” Laws tells us, and “Take pains to cover cameras on computers in the future and to have complicated online passwords (that change every few months).” Laws also says that copyrighting images is a good preventative measure — if anyone shares them without permission, they will be in violation of copyright laws.

Most importantly, Laws tells us that victims are not alone, and that they have resources available to help them fight back.

Do you have thoughts about revenge porn and privacy online? Tell us about it @BritandCo.

(Photos via Brian Ach, PeopleImages, Hero Images / Getty )