Facebook Launches New Tracking Tool To Combat Revenge Porn

revenge-porn

by Anna Brech |

One small triumph has been won in the ongoing battle against revenge porn this week, as Facebook announced the launch of a series of tools aimed to combat the spread of explicit, non-consensual images on its platforms.

The social media site has introduced a photo-matching technology that can recognise content previously reported and banned as revenge porn (when someone shares sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their consent).

If a user tries to re-share a photo that has previously been banned, they will receive a pop-up message warning that the image violates Facebook policies. They will be unable to share that image on Facebook, Messenger or Instagram.

In many cases, Facebook will also deactivate the accounts of people who share graphic, non-consensual images.

"We’ve focused in on this because of the unique harm that this kind of sharing has on its victims," Facebook Global Head of Safety, Antigone Davis, tells techcrunch.com.

The issue the company faces is that it still relies on a user-reported system to flag such content in the first place.

But it says new tools introduced this week will also allow people on Facebook to more easily flag non-consensual content to "specially trained representatives" from the company’s community operations team, who will then review and remove photos where appropriate.

A rising crime

revenge-porn
"I Googled myself and what I saw made me crumble to the ground in tears"

The use of the internet to control and threaten victims of revenge porn is rising in the UK, and forms part of a trend of crimes committed through social media, according to a report from the Crown Prosecution Service last year.

Revenge porn is most often carried out by ex-partners, bent on causing distress.

More than 200 people have been prosecuted since it became a crime to share private sexual photographs or films without the subject's consent in England and Wales, in a law passed in April 2015.

The offence carries a punishment of up to two years in prison.

American campaigner Chrissy Chambers was the first woman to use UK laws to sue websites for publishing revenge porn, after her British ex-boyfriend allegedly uploaded a naked video of her to a porn website without her consent in 2013.

The 25-year-old discovered the video after her friend saw it. She told Grazia, "I Googled myself and what I saw made me crumble to the ground in tears. I was struck with terror - I would never have guessed he’d do this to me."

She got in contact with London-based law firm McAllister Olivarius, which specialises in dealing with revenge porn cases. As the incident happened before revenge porn became a crime in the UK, they launched a civil case against her ex-boyfriend - a three-year battle that is still ongoing.

Too few prosecutions

prosecution
61% of revenge porn cases reported between March 2015 and 2016 result in no action being taken ©Getty

But it remains frustratingly difficult to bring those responsible for revenge porn to justice, both in Britain and elsewhere.

A Freedom of Information request by the BBC shows children as young as 11 are being targeted by the crime, but 61% of cases reported between March 2015 and 2016 result in no action being taken.

"Until we have police trained to collect evidence and a better understanding of how we provide for victims, then we won’t be able to secure the level of convictions which reflect the magnitude of the crime," conservative MP Maria Miller tells Grazia.

Facebook has struggled with the issue for some years now, and has faced criticism for not taking a tough enough stance against it.

Under its community standards policy, content that "threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation" will be removed - yet this doesn't always play out in reality.

"Understanding the impact of being abused and violated by thousands of people is not something that hits you," revenge porn victim Emma Holten, who was targeted on Facebook, tells Grazia. "It sneaks up on you and engulfs your whole being. I felt extreme humiliation and a loss of control over myself. I had lost every sort of hold on how I wanted to be perceived."

"Facebook were okay to a point," Megan, a victim of revenge porn, tells WIRED. "When I complained and reported the images, they came down within a couple of days, sometimes longer when they got loaded on weekends."

But, she explained, they didn't delete the offending account; which meant the perpetrator was free to post the same explicit content over and again.

Paving the way forward

facebook
"This new process will provide reassurance for many victims of image-based sexual abuse" ©Getty

Facebook's development announced this week should work to combat the problem of re-posting, and campaigners have welcomed the move.

"This new process will provide reassurance for many victims of image-based sexual abuse, and dramatically reduce the amount of harmful content on the platform," Laura Higgins, founder of Revenge Porn UK, tells the Guardian.

"We hope that this will inspire other social media companies to take similar action and that together we can make the online environment hostile to abuse."

Are you a victim of revenge porn, or do you know someone who is? Get free, confidential help and advice here

Revenge Porn Helpline: 0845 600 0459

READ MORE: The Most Influential Women Of The Year 2016

READ MORE: Meet The Women Seeking Revenge On Revenge Porn

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us