When I founded Bumble in 2014, it was with safety in mind: I wanted to create a dating app that would protect women from the toxic misogyny and gendered abuse so prevalent online. As we’ve grown, we’ve added safety features to advance our mission and encourage accountability.
In 2018, we banned images of guns from our platform. The following year, we added a layer of protection from a pervasive form of harassment that’s long plagued the internet: the unsolicited sending of dick pics. Our AI technology blurs nude images automatically; it’s up to you to decide if you want to see them.
Following both announcements, as if to reinforce each stance, I started receiving dick pics to my own inbox and via direct messages. These attacks made me flash back to my early career, when I experienced an online pile-on – name-calling, anonymous hate and sexualised abuse. I had panic attacks and anxiety and didn’t want to leave my house.
Shockingly, in 2021 it remains entirely legal in England and Wales to cyberflash– that is, to send an unsolicited dick pic or nude image or video recording of any kind, without any consent required. Explicit photos are regularly sent on social media and messaging apps, as well as via AirDrop, WiFi and Bluetooth. Women are disproportionately the recipients.
Research from data analytics firm YouGov shows that four in 10 Millennial women (41%) have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man’s genitals without consent. Bumble’s own research* suggests that this figure could be even higher, with nearly half (48%) of those aged 18 to 24 receiving an explicit or nude photo they didn’t ask for in the last year alone.
Receiving these images can trigger past traumas.
The experience of receiving these photos isn’t momentary or fleeting, as I can attest. Those on the receiving end are often left feeling violated, less trusting of others online, and more vulnerable when using the internet. It can also trigger past traumas.
It seems nonsensical that cyberflashing is not criminalised in the same way as physical flashing – which, in many countries, is classified as a criminal offence punishable by fines and, in some cases, imprisonment. In Scotland, cyberflashing has been classified as a sexual offence for over a decade. If flashing won’t fly on the street – or at the office, or in the classroom – it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox.
Now, at Bumble, I’m making the call for cyberflashing to be made illegal a cornerstone of our policy work. We’ve already seen that change is possible. In the US, Bumble has been working with legislators at state level to establish a deterrent to – and create penalties for – sending unsolicited explicit or nude photos. We started in Texas, home of our stateside headquarters. Our team worked closely with Republicans and Democrats alike; I testified in front of both the Texas State House and Senate, pressing lawmakers to make the unsolicited sending of these images punishable by law.
The measure, called House Bill 2789, passed the Texas Senate unanimously in May 2019 and became law that September. Now, the sending of a lewd photo without the recipient’s consent is a Class C misdemeanour, punishable by a fine of up to $500. On the back of that big win, we’ve worked with legislators to introduce additional state-level bills in both New York and California.
Following our legislative efforts in America, Bumble will be working alongside politicians, organisations and members of the public as we call on the UK Government to make the sending of unsolicited explicit or nude images a crime.
We’ve already begun. Since early November, we’ve been having cross-party parliamentary consultations alongside UN Women UK, the United Nations’ gender equality arm, to galvanise support from MPs. We are also engaging with organisations that have been advocating for years to make cyberflashing a criminal offence.
Unsolicited dick pics aren't a joke, they're violent.
While we’re seeking to change the law, we’re also working to upend the culture of misogyny that has allowed for the pervasiveness of dick pics (the term itself, with its vaguely humorous quality, belies its harm). It isn’t a joke; it’s violent, it’s pernicious and it must stop.
We’re calling on Grazia readers and our own Bumble community to help end this form of harassment. Sign Grazia’s petition, write to your MP, and make sure your friends and family are aware that this is unacceptable. We have to make it clear that this needs to change. With your support, we will finally bring standards of online conduct closer in line with our standards of behaviour in the real world.
To sign Grazia's petition to make Cyberflashing a crime, click here.
*RESEARCH COMMISSIONED BY BUMBLE AND CARRIED OUT ONLINE BY RESEARCH WITHOUT BARRIERS. SURVEYS WERE CONDUCTED 15-18 OCTOBER 2021 WITH 1,793 RESPONDENTS WHO LIVE IN ENGLAND OR WALES. ALL RESEARCH CONDUCTED ADHERES TO THE UK MARKET RESEARCH SOCIETY (MRS) CODE OF CONDUCT (2019) AND ICC/ESOMAR (INTERNATIONAL). RWB IS REGISTERED WITH THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE AND COMPLIES WITH THE DPA (1998)