Sexting often starts innocently enough, but the consequences can be nothing short of disastrous. While many people think this is only a problem among youth – all ages can be targets of sextortion or leaked intimate images.
At Minc Law, we have seen the dangers of sexting time and again and helped clients clean up their digital footprints after sexting went wrong. Before we start to sound overly parental, we should point out that we understand intimate conversations happen. Conversing with potential partners on social media and dating apps has become the new norm. But that does not mean you should not be cautious when it comes to socializing online.
While there are many reasons to avoid sexting, here are four of the biggest dangers everyone should know about:
- You never really know who you are dealing with online. You could be communicating with a predator.
- When a person asks for nude photos, they could be planning to extort you. Yes, sextortion happens more often than you realize.
- Even if the recipient does not share your sexts – your phone (or cloud) could be lost, stolen, or hacked.
- Leaked photos and images can ruin your reputation, career, and even personal relationships.
In this article, we will discuss the damage that can come from sending explicit photos to strangers (or anyone) on the internet and delve into the consequences of leaked photos.
First, we will outline the most common sexting scenario we see as attorneys. We are sympathetic advocates who “get” our clients, and no, we do not judge others for sexting. But, we also see the life-upending toll sexting can have when things go wrong.
When Sexting Goes Wrong: A Common Scenario
It almost always starts the same way: you are scrolling through Facebook or swiping on your preferred dating app and someone catches your eye. You start to chat, and they suggest taking the conversation to a messaging app. Then, they ask you to “send nudes.” Perhaps they even ask in a subtler, less offensive way – implying innocent intentions.
You hesitate at first, but eventually talk yourself into it. After all, you know so many other people who are doing it, so it cannot be that dangerous. You may have even developed trust with the person making the request. Maybe you even decline at first, playing it cool and trying to avoid an awkward conversation. But eventually you give in and send the photo.
Everything seems fine until your best friend calls and lets you know that she saw the nude photo of you on the internet. You panic, realizing this is actually the photo you sent your crush. Now, an innocent conversation with someone you were attracted to has been published online for the world to see.
This is how sexting goes wrong.
What is Sexting?
Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, videos, or images between any digital device. These days, there are a plethora of ways sexting takes place. It might involve sending explicit texts or images to someone’s cell phone or a social media account. It may also include video chats and “home” videos (you thought) that were private and personal.
Why You Should NOT Sext
It may seem obvious but the best way to avoid sextortion (or the scenario we previously described) is to avoid sexting in the first place. We all think that sextortion, blackmail, or publication of private facts, images and messages will not happen to us. But this is a false sense of comfort (and completely ignores the reality of the world we live in).
There are quite a few reasons why you should not sext at all, and some may surprise you. Here are nine primary reasons to abstain from sexting:
- It is easy to be anonymous on the internet. You never know who you are actually dealing with or the true identity of an account holder.
- If you meet a person online and they request nude photos, you are probably about to get scammed or extorted. Do NOT do it! It is not worth the trouble, money, or stress.
- If your image is sent on (or leaked onto) the internet, it can ruin your reputation and affect your career. It may even harm your relationship with loved ones.
- Even if you know the person, you should still think twice about sending that nude photo. If you break up, you have no idea what the person will do with that photo after the break-up.
- If someone is asking you for nude photos, they are probably asking other people for them as well.
- One photo is never enough. If you send one, it is not going to stop there.
- Hiding your face does not make you anonymous. There may be other distinguishing features (like tattoos) that give away your identity.
- Even if the recipient does not share your photo, your phone (or cloud) could be lost, stolen, or hacked.
- Even apps like Snapchat cannot be trusted because there are still ways to save the content.
Dangers of Sexting
“Sextortion” is such a common problem that it even has its own term. In case you have not heard of sextortion before, it is a form of blackmail in which sexual images or videos are used to extort money from the victim. Usually, predators will get compromising images or videos through catfishing, hacking, webcam sextortion, or relationship abuse. Then, they threaten to make the images public unless you pay them. Some perpetrators even attempt to extort sexual favors from the victim. This method of extortion is on the rise and happens on a daily basis to adults and children alike.
Some states recognize sextortion as a cybercrime, although they may refer to different names like cyber extortion, sexual exploitation, nonconsensual pornography, and distribution of intimate images without consent. Even the FBI has created a “Stop Sextortion” campaign to help spread awareness about the dangers of sexting.
Revenge Porn Fact: Also referred to as non-consensual photography, revenge porn is the publishing of intimate photos without the consent or permission of the photograph’s subjects. In many cases, there may not even be a revenge or extortion motive – just ill-will and maliciousness.
Sending or receiving naked pictures of underage individuals is illegal. This is considered possession of child pornography and can get you in serious trouble. The person you are communicating with may SAY they are over 18, but how can you be sure?
As bad at that seems, you may even be perpetuating child trafficking. Many child traffickers use the anonymity of the internet to hide the age of children – catfishing otherwise upstanding adults into a dark world of abuse.
This brings us to the next danger of sexting: you could be communicating with a sexual predator. It may seem obvious that people who request sexual content could be predators, but people fail to see that even the SENDERS of sexual content may be predators.
Some manipulate others by sending a nude that they claim is theirs (but it is actually someone else) just to get you to send nude photos in return. This is a strategy we have seen time and time again with our clients. It establishes a level of trust. However, the photo of them is usually fake and they only send you a photo so they can obtain content from you to subsequently use as blackmail in the future.
Internet Blackmail Tip: To report internet blackmail, we recommend following three steps: (1) preserve all blackmail, evidence, and communications; (2) report internet blackmail to the police; (3) contact and work with an experienced internet blackmail attorney. We also published a guide on how to report sextortion for anyone dealing with extortion involving sexual images or videos.
If explicit photos, videos, or texts are leaked on the internet your reputation could be tainted (at the very least). In reality, the reputational harm is quite ruinous. It can lead to public online shaming on social media, embarrassment, the loss of a job, loss of future job opportunities, or even the loss of respect of friends and family.
Younger victims may think reputational harm starts and ends with popularity among friends. However, the damage can be long-lasting and farther reaching than ever imagined.
Even if internet publication of a nude photo does not have drastic consequences at age 18, it may ruin your life when you are 26 and trying to land a career to support your family. The internet is infinite. Images that were once only mildly embarrassing can become absolutely disastrous as time passes.
Intimate Conversations Happen: Here is What to Keep in Mind
Stay safe online. Never send money or share financial information with others (especially wire transfers). These are virtually impossible to trace and a common way for predators to take advantage of others.
Protect your personal information. Keep communications on the platform where you originally met the individual. If the person you are talking to proposes that you take the conversation to Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. things can get dicey. Switching to a different platform increases the level of risk. Along the same lines, it is worthwhile to enhance your security settings on social media accounts.
Be skeptical of long-distance relationships. Catfishing is a modern problem and it is relatively easy for predators to use the internet to their advantage. While you may think internet communication is safer than in-person contact, the reality may be just the opposite. The global popularity of social platforms enables predators to victimize others at rates that even the most prolific serial rapists cannot match.
Predators take advantage of the anonymity offered by the internet as well as increased trust. For instance, most of us would not willingly converse with a child trafficker in person – but we could be doing it online without even realizing it.
Along the same lines, do not send nudes to another person on the internet just because they sent you one first. This is a common tool for extortionists. They could be sending you an image that is not even them, and they may use the image you send to extort you.
Anonymous Online Attacks Fact: If you are facing an anonymous online attacker, unmasking their identity is important to properly resolve the situation. Once you identify the attacker, you may be able to: (1) hold the attacker accountable; (2) permanently remove any content they posted; (3) prevent future posts and attacks; (4) obtain a settlement or monetary reward for damages through a lawsuit.
The Internet Attorneys at Minc Law Can Help
As internet defamation attorneys, we know firsthand that the internet can be a dangerous place. Our primary goal is to educate others to protect themselves from online victimization, but we are ready to help if the worst occurs as well.
“Melanie and the team at Minc did a great job taking offensive posts down of several websites. Quick and efficient, with good communication during the whole process. I can’t thank them enough!”
Anonymous, January 21, 2021
If your nude photo has been posted to the internet or you are a victim of extortion or revenge porn, contact the defamation and revenge porn lawyers of Minc Law today for assistance.