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“Consent is required in an internet world”
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“Consent is required in an internet world”

Alicia Wallace picViewing images and videos that are known to be recorded and shared without the consent of those shown makes the viewer accessory to a criminal act, argues Alicia Wallace, 29, a Correspondent from Nassau, Bahamas.

The internet, mobile devices, and social media brought significant changes to the creation and sharing of information. We need only reach into our pockets and peck at tiny keys to gain access to a world of data. This has come as a relief and welcome improvement for many, but others suffer the effects of exploitation, bullying, and harassment.

We have seen enormous increase in shared media, specifically through Facebook and Whatsapp. An alarming rate of shares and commentary centre around material portraying people who have not consented to the recording and/or sharing of the material.

In 2014, images – and video – of a minor were circulated through Whatsapp. It is clear that the material was stolen, then shared without consent. Rather than rebuking the thief and those illegally sharing the material, many chose to focus on the victim. People posted hateful comments which included name-calling and rebuke, often suggesting that she somehow deserved this violation. Perhaps more devastatingly, her deal with a major local company was suspended. The action taken by the company clearly indicated its lack of understanding of sexual violence, as it only served to publicly perpetuate rape culture through victim-blaming and punishment.

This incident occurred shortly after numerous celebrity photos were leaked by a hacker. Some victims publicly responded, urging the public not to feed into the behaviour – by searching, viewing, and sharing the photos – of those intent on attacking women through technological terrorism.

Photo and video leaks are a direct violation of privacy. Perpetrators aim to humiliate or vilify people by exposing private moments of their lives in isolation, creating a thread that publicly morphs into the story. Victims are then, by public opinion, synonymous with the story as told by a criminal.

Public response to cyber crimes is coloured by the idea that women are not entitled to their own bodies. Women are warned not to take photos or record videos of themselves, and ridiculed when such material is released without consent. This is not unlike the views on and responses to rape. The onus is consistently placed on potential victims to avoid the crime while resources are not used to discourage perpetrators.

Rape and molestation are the most easily identified acts of sexual violence. Many fail to realize that sexual harassment, nude photo sharing, and revenge porn are also acts of sexual violence. It is often overlooked that anyone sharing such material is participating in the offence. Culpability is not limited to the creator of the content. Every time we share such material, we become criminals.

There must be a shift our thinking. Ill-gotten, illegally shared material is evidence of a criminal act. We need to take responsibility for the roles we play in continuing the trend of policing, violating, and shaming the people we help to make victims with our selfish voyeurism and zeal for ruthless judgement.

Before we rush to share material we do not own or have rights to, or sentence others to weeks of our harshest critique, we should subject ourselves to a few questions:

– What if the world defined me based on one moment of my life that I never expected to become public knowledge?

– What makes me an expert on someone else’s life?

– What gives me the right to pass judgement on another person or their decisions?

– If I was the subject of this material, would I want people to view/share it?

– What if someone shared footage of me sharing this material? How would I feel? Would it change other people’s perception of me? How would that affect me?

– How many things would I have never done if I constantly worried about all the things that could have gone wrong? How would that have affected my life?

– Do I live every minute of my life censored by the what-ifs, shoulds, and should-nots imposed by society? Why, or why not?

It is highly unlikely that, upon reflection of your responses, you will be able to justify your participation in sexual violence or the perpetuation of rape culture. You will find it difficult to be the reason for another person’s shame. You will rise above the childish gossip, name-calling, labelling, and bullying. You may even find yourself respecting others’ personhood, recognizing life for the journey it is meant to be.

As technological advancements continue, so must our quest for greater understanding of the world and the people inhabiting it with us. Social media trains us to see one another as objects and snippets of entertainment. Its on us to remember that we are all human beings. Just as we attempt to define people by their status updates, tweets, photos, or videos, we can be characterized by our responses to them.

The most fortunate among us are able to look in the mirror and respect what we see. Your email, social media accounts, and cellphone apps should not tell the story of an abuser or oppressor, but of a person who named wrongful behaviour, encouraged others to support victims rather than blame them, and played a role – however small – in changing the way the world looks at women, their bodies and sexuality, and their right to privacy, autonomy, and a full life.

Reach me on Twitter @_AliciaAudrey

This article first appeared in thebahamasweekly.com

See related YourCommonwealth article here.

photo credit: Workplace via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a writer and blogger, living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. I’m a women’s rights activist and youth advocate. Trained in economics and finance, I believe improving the educational system will result in a higher rate of civic participation. My work has been in the non-profit world. I am Director of Hollaback! Bahamas, a global movement to end street harassment, co-founder of Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination, and Director of Equality Bahamas’ educational campaign

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit:
http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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