If there are two things in this world I know to be true it’s that most people have the capacity for evil, and that everyone has at some point taken a photo of their own genitals.
Revenge porn—the non-consensual dissemination of the aforementioned risqué images—has gotten out of control online. A report by the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research reveals the extent to which this behavior has become part of the (increasingly ugly) fabric of the internet.
According to the survey, roughly 4 percent of Americans have, at some point, either had their nudes posted online without their consent, or were threatened with such behavior. America is a very big country, and 4 percent maths out to 10 and a half million people, give or take. Granted with a sample size of only 3,002 people that’s an imprecise number—but a loose extrapolation from a self-reported survey is the best estimate we’ve got for how widespread revenge porn truly is.
The threat of revenge porn predominantly affects younger people, the survey found, and homosexual or bisexual internet users were targeted more than straight ones. Sickening, but not necessarily surprising. The DSRI data indicated that men and women were at equal risk, which, even as a man who has had nude photos shared without my consent, was extremely surprising.
Sensitive images are sometimes posted by a scorned ex. But as in the case of online events like The Fappening, can sometimes be obtained through hacking, fusking, or other exploits.
In recent years, a variety of companies have broadly taken stances on revenge porn, and state law has moved to criminalize this behavior. Google added a form for victims to fill out and have their nudes pulled from searches. Reddit too has made clear its refusal to allow such images—though enforcement of that policy is lacking. The founders of revenge porn sites Is Anyone Up and U Got Posted have both been sentenced to serve time for their actions.
Because this is the first survey of its kind we lack the historical data to indicate if enforcement is keeping pace with threats and leaks. Put another way, things might be getting better or worse—we don’t know—but 10.4 million people is too many to ignore.