A 21 year old Irish woman, Daire Hickey McGovern, took to the National airwaves yesterday, speaking on RTE's ‘Live Line'. She described her image abuse experience. Images were harvested without her knowledge, or consent from Facebook, and then uploaded to pornographic websites. Speaking openly she stated, “I was afraid that when people would google me, the first thing that would come up is photos of me on a porn site,”
Ms McGovern's experience is not an isolated one. There have been other Irish women and young female teenagers, who have also had a similarly horrific image abuse experience. Discovering innocent images of themselves, posted on vile pornographic websites. The male who uploaded the images in this case, Evan Meehan, himself 19 or 20 at the time, had harvested and uploaded images of 19 individual girls, on pornographic websites. All of the girls were thought to be friends of Evan Meehan. He pleaded guilty to uploading 30 photos in total. All charges against Evan Meehan were struck out in court last month.
Traumatic and Horrific Experience
This is both a traumatic and horrific experience for any person. Harvesting images from a Social Media site, uploading them to a pornographic website, allows victims to be further degraded by others. Sexualized commentary frequently accompanies the image abuse on these sites. Ms Hickey McGovern added “comments made under the photos were also upsetting and would make you paranoid as to who had seen the photos. I didn't look at them, I couldn't, I thought it was too much.”
Victims are frequently identified by the site users and named in the comments under the victims own image. Their details posted for others on the pornographic site to see. This then enables people to access the victims social media accounts themselves, by sending friend or follower requests. Online image abuse, can cause a considerable amount psychological harm and revictimization, every time the images are accessed, shared or reposted.
It is now 2019, issues similar to this have been highlighted since 2014, when a number of Dublin school girls were found to have had their images uploaded to pornographic websites. The RTE Investigates Unit at the time revealed images of school girls were being uploaded in their thousands. Most were unaware it was happening. There have been widespread stories since of image sharing with various intent. Revenge by ex-partners, now appearing to be one of the more popular.
The permanence of the internet, may make it difficult to remove this content, once it is posted and shared with others on a variety of platforms. We would advise everyone, to review their friends and followers list on social media. Apply our rule of touch. If you were never able to touch the person in real life on the shoulder, then you do not know this person. Never give access to anyone you don't know, to your social media account or its contents.
Be Careful What You Post
Sharing images can be fun, but there is a harsh reality that we can't ignore. Images are accessed, harvested, and photoshoped in some cases to sexualize them. We have to be aware that these images can now be used to create Deepfake porn videos which are being generated, posted and shared by multiple means and platforms. Once you put an image online, you lose control of it. In this case, it was possible to identify the suspected offender, but that may not always be the way.
Private Does Not Mean Private Online
Privacy Settings while important, are only a comfort blanket in reality. Private means “it is just for me”. If you want to keep something private, put it in a locked box under your bed. Posting a private image or message to one person online, means the image is no longer private. It exists on your device, a copy may be retained in the server of the App your using. The App permissions, may keep a copy, or share it on with a third party. Then there is the receiver's device. Once it arrives on that device, what Apps will access it there? What about if either devices are infected with malware, it gets lost, or handed in for an upgrade?
The online world is not as secure as many like to believe. We have to be more aware of this, and reflect it in how we use and access the online world. Posting images of yourself online, should never have to be accompanied by the fear of some depraved individual, sexualising your content for their own sexual gratification. However there are over 3.6 billion users of the internet. Not every one of these individuals are nice. We have to remember that. We also need to improve our understanding of online privacy, catch up, with reality. Everyday new threats emerge, but we are still focusing on older ones. This has to change.