If there’s one thing that demonstrates how ‘not private’ something like Twitter really is, it’s the ability to forward on/re-tweet photos. In the age of online dating and ‘meeting’ people via apps like Tinder it’s often very easy to forget that at the other end of that Twitter handle or Whatsapp (a texting app) account there is a real person – someone who may have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about releasing your images onto the internet. There have been some very well documented cases in recent years about photos accidentally getting released when sent from one partner to another but it would seem that we are getting increasingly reckless about who we send our photos to.
An astonishing number of female friends who are either actively dating in the real world or chatting online, have confessed to receiving an unsolicited image or two of a man’s pride and joy. If you thought this kind of behaviour was limited to bored teenagers or the slightly pervy then think again as it’s widespread with numerous websites devoted to collating the best celebrity versions of these types of pictures. Perhaps one of the most prolific – and unexpected – offenders is Anthony Weiner, an American politician and former U.S. representative from January 1999 until June 2011. His ‘sexting’ issues (including sending numerous pictures of ‘himself’ to the women in question) are so well known that they even have their own Wikipedia page.
Sexuality is complicated and we all have our secrets and desires, most of which are vastly different from those of the next person. But what it is about sending unsolicited images like this via social media that makes us think this is a ‘safe’ thing to do? It’s most likely to be part and parcel of the trap that many people fall into of forgetting what’s on the other end of your social media presence: people – and in the case of unsolicited photos like this it’s usually people you don’t know very well. Sometimes posting on social media can feel like shouting into a void, which is why some people don’t clock the consequences of sending a picture of your privates via such a very public forum. Even if it’s not something as risqué as extreme nakedness, we do often forget that there can be repercussions for what we say on social media – whether that’s concerning someone else’s behaviour or publicly commenting in a way that is provocative or just plain rude.
It’s fairly unlikely that anyone reading this blog needs to be told not to send one of the aforementioned photos via a forum like Twitter or the very forward-able platform that is Whatsapp. However, there are some lessons to be learned here about the effect that the reckless use of social media can have on reputation, and how scary the snowball effect can be. One of the first things many of us get taught when entering the legal world is not to say or attach anything in an email that you wouldn’t be happy to have read out/shown in court. Perhaps that’s a lesson we should apply to social media too – if you don’t want the judge to see it then don’t ‘get it out’ in the first place…