[Trigger Warning: Teen Exploitation, Pornography & Sexual Predators]
Jessie discovered it accidentally.
“It was on the popular page,” he told me. “I thought it was just a hot guy with his shirt off.”
Jessie, a 20-something male in New York, had clicked on what he thought was an innocuous selfie on Instagram, the kind of photo we’ve come to expect from a generation which thinks the best way to prove your worth is to purse your lips while staring into a water-stained bathroom mirror. But the image, it turned out, wasn’t of a “hot guy” — it was of a young boy.
“Like, 11-years-old young boy,” Jessie said.
Jessie was creeped out, but what he noticed next disturbed him most: The picture had received thousands upon thousands of likes.
“A lot of [the likes] came from other young people, teenagers,” he said. “But a lot of them weren’t. Accounts with blank profile photos, or of older men. People who obviously didn’t know this boy but were getting off to him.”
Jessie had stumbled upon the dark underbelly of Instagram, where adults prey on teenagers whose intimate photos sit in plain sight among the sierra-filtered fall foliage and #skinnyarm besties. In the four years since its creation, Instagram has become a welcome mat for sexual predators, the result of a perfect storm: validation-hungry teenagers who distribute sexualized images publicly, and lecherous adults who know that showering them with likes and follows is the best way to lure them closer.
+Commentary: This is an exhaustively long article full of salacious, screencaps with black-box-obscuring-facial-recognition and identity which is why there is a jump to the full article. There was so many, they triggered a deep revulsion, igniting painful memories and didn’t seem to be fully necessary given the nature of the article.
This moral panic article is nothing new when it comes to the internet. Oprah covering those abducted teens who met predators in AOL chatrooms were all the rage once. Making the nightly news in a ‘Is your teen out of control?’ variety, with the occasional “Do You Know Who Your Kids are Talking to on the Internet” thrown in for good measure.
The issues highlighted in this article are a very valid concern, and should be addressed by these behemoth social networks who as a byproduct are enabling very dangerous behaviors. At the same time it is the age old question between does the responsibility lie in something that billions use safely, or the small number who exploit that. This article is most disturbing because the meeting of teenage narcissism with predatory adults is a deadly combination. The do-anything-for-a-few-minutes-of-fame attitude that a hormonal teenager possesses and sees rewarded on social media or mainstream media is a dangerous abyss.
However, as with all moral panic articles such as this there is a very real danger at the margins for crusaders to use this dragnet to actually punish those whose lifestyles they do not agree with. Just as we would think might be evident in this reporting. Sure there is a problem, it is complex & nuanced beyond the scope of this article. It calls for nothing specific, and doesn’t even come with any relevant suggestions. Simply rather questionable statistics.
What’s the line between publishing someone’s personal experience and exploitation? You see this with troll-doxxing, but what about Journalists skirting the line with screenshots of their exchanges? With that in mind the insistence on self-reportage by users as the only form of policing a community, when clearly any idea is entirely rooted in an antiquated sociological concepts and philosophies.
These are global, worldwide, universes unto themselves. Constellations if you would that each has its own non-scalable system of enforcement. For example, the outrage in ‘lactivists’ breastfeeding photos, two cops kissing, and the many ‘permissible’ by their ‘Community Standards’ and ToS images of women nearly naked and fully exploited is a stark dichotomy. Rape Culture is fine, Self-Generated Teen Pornography is not. Except that along with this hyper-vigilance many other things deemed socially deviant get swept up in that dragnet.
Transgender while experiencing somewhat of a nationwide awakening, is still considered worthy of flagging by puritanical social media armchair critics. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be that far on the margin. A Kim Davis Meme featuring FBI Agent extraordinaire Scully with the words: Doesn’t Believe in UFOs. Still does her fucking job. Here are two reactions below:
There needs to be serious discussion around the way billions of pieces of content can be reviewed, filtered, or even regulated. It is a task only a machine can handle but one that they are not ready to tackle. If they were they’d magically activate skynet to remove us all. So how do we thread the needle when social media has becomes so pervasive in our lives, moreover those of our teens and tweens, not to mention the baby-operating iPad generation which will come of age soon. How will we reach them, what changes will they bring, and furthermore how to keep everyone safe?
This is an ongoing conversation, and the biggest critique of this type of reportage was its reliance on vanity metrics: likes/shares/direct messages. Nothing substantive, no comparison to other popular adults or brands. No consideration that Generation Social Vanity will be far more jaded than the reporter. Worse that when these kids are adults even, just the possession of which as an adult can have you as a registered sex offender with a lifetime of consequence.
We have to be careful we are criminalizing abuse, not a teen’s sexual self-exploration.
[08:35 AM 9/20/2015] Updated: Apparently they thought better of the salacious pictures and removed them. Both putting the in, and removing them with a note shows rather questionable editorial judgment. Also added slightly further commentary and a few screenshots of recent events to highlight the way in which self-reporting options can be used as blunt force tool to silence or harass marginalized groups.