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“SEX TAPE” — A HARDCORE REVENGE PORN …

Revenge Porn, Social Media

“SEX TAPE” — A HARDCORE REVENGE PORN CLOSE-UP OF A ROMCOMBOMB

July 22, 2014

By Carrie Goldberg and Adam Massey

Chances are “Sex Tape” is not a film that’s going to knock your socks (or undies) off.  The premise: a bored couple decides to spice up their marriage by filming a frisky film which inadvertently syncs to the Cloud and automatically forwards to their friends, neighbors, coworkers, mail courier, et cetera. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

The movie features Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz.  The former is known for mother-weepingly gratuitous full-frontal nudity, while the latter reportedly nude for the first time in this film, has spent most of her career clothed, and in fact was loudly and Diaz was justifiably upset when a topless pre-fame modeling video was widely distributed on the Internet.

At first glance, it seems like a topical (not typical) rom-com.  IRL, people are filming themselves nude and/or in sexual situations more than ever before.  A decade ago sex tapes were known primarily as the domain of the quasi-famous.  Litigation followed the leak of Pamela Lee’s sex tape, arguably the foundational “text” of the “genre” (put another way, the Anderson tape is to celebrity sex tapes as Dawn of the Dead is to zombie movies).  And then it happened to her again – different year, different guy. Later Paris Hilton popularized camcorder “night-vision” mode with hers.  Kim Kardashian’s kornography followed not long after, etc.

If Sex Tape represents anything, it’s how mainstream amateur pornography has become.  The couple at the center of the film is white, happily married albeit sexually unmotivated, suburban, and wealthy enough to be frickin giving out iPads as party favors. The trailer suggests the only interesting thing about them is that their sex tape leaked.

Sex Tape can find humor in a safe, established, loving couple dealing with the consequence of their private life becoming public; but Revenge Porn and the nonconsensual distribution of private images isn’t a laughing matter for real victims.

In reality, the movie provides a stark contrast to the demographic profile of the majority of victims struggling to reel in naked images of themselves from the Internet.  And while the marriage of Diaz and Segal is probably cutely strengthened through the mirth of their shared plight, thus bringing them closer to that “spice-it-up” goal they were originally seeking, the misery and shame experienced by real victims of sex-gone-viral (internet viral, that is) could not be more different.  Most are young women in the beginnings of their careers with friends, colleagues, and family members who judge and alienate, rather than help.  And perhaps most unrealistic thing of all about the movie is that the pair are together experiencing the problem within the context of a healthy and functional relationship, as we are to believe Diaz and Segal enjoy. We know their Hollywood ending will yield a transformative experience for the couple. However, in real life, Revenge Porn is a “partner” experience only insofar as it’s almost always one partner who vengefully uploaded the image/video and it’s the other partner struggling through the depths of hell to get them down.

SEX TAPE’s SEX TAPE IS REVENGE PORN, SORTA

If you’ve visited this blog before, then you likely know all about Revenge Porn and about how the internet is beefy with private sex images that are online without the subject’s consent. Taken and shared with consent, but not further distributed with it. Sometimes the distribution of the images is motivated by what we categorically think of as revenge — a vindictive ex who uploads naked photos as punishment for a breakup.  Other times, however, the images are posted by somebody without a personal vendetta against the victim – a mischievous hacker, gossipmonger, or a profiteer (For instance, one dedicated Revenge Porn site reportedly pays contributors bitcoins on a per-click basis and one now-defunct site owned the reputation management companies that provided takedown services). So in our eyes (and that of most other practitioners, academics and advocates), “Revenge Porn” is a subset of the larger category of the involuntary or nonconsensual distribution of intimate images.  (As Adam M. says, “NDII”).  And really, Sex Tape is an example of NDII.

Harm to the victims is generally the same no matter what originally prompted the distributor to distribute.  Or if it was a cloud-related accident like in the movie.  That’s because the main harm is from 1) the doxxing (personal info – name, city, state, age, birthday, workplace, address, social media pics, email, phone, etc.) that occurs for 60 % of victims with this personal material posted alongside the images, exposing the victims to harassment by the Revenge Porn consumers and 2) the search engine problem since de-indexing and online removal can be akin to undetonating a bomb.  From these two problems derive all the subsequent issues for the victims – inability to find work, emotional distress, cyberbullying, stalking offline and online, loss of job, deterioration of romantic relationships, suffering of friendships and family relations, expensive search engine optimizing and image removal.

Since the harm is the same, in some ways the motive behind the distribution doesn’t matter.  However, the varied criminal laws see it differently. Some require that the distributor (i.e. the person who posts the porn) intended to cause harm.   Don’t worry, first amendment absolutists – no criminal laws would be triggered by anything as accidental as what happened in Sex Tape.   Arizona’s law, though, comes the closest to deterring the viral spread of the video. Arizona’s law states, “it is unlawful to knowingly disclose, display, distribute, publish, advertise or offer a photograph, videotape, film or digital recording or other reproduction of another person in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act without obtaining the written consent of the depicted person.”  So while Jason is not criminally liable since he did not “knowingly” disclose (Blame the cloud!), recipients of the video who live in Arizona can’t forward or re-post the videos without written consent of Jason and Cameron.  The Arizona law creates a “think before ya click” standard when it comes to distribution and redistribution of intimate pictures.  It’sthe law that would keep them covered in Sex Tape.

CAN WE VICTIM-BLAME IN SEX TAPE?

There are some people who love to place all the blame on Revenge Porn victim – as opposed to blaming the perpetrator or the website or the consumers or society.  Are Cameron and Jason as blameworthy as most victims?  Normally, there’s tri-blaming that happens to victims.  Blaming her/him for 1) being in the pic, 2) poor selection in partner, 3) entrusting poorly selected partner with the pic.  (And sometimes we can tack on some additional blaming elements based on their physical attributes, the sex act, etc.)

We expect viewers to give Jason and Cameron a pass on the victim-blaming thing because they’re a cute affluent couple not dealing with misplaced trust and deceit and things that go bump in the night. It probably never occurs to the audience that these two happy people should distrust one another when they’re setting up the tri-pod in their pristine home.  That’s the thing, though.  Most individuals who do later become victims of revenge porn do trust their partner when the images are shot.  They don’t yet have the reason to distrust.  (This is not always the case since sometimes Revenge Porn is the product of abusive relationships and pressure, threats, ultimatums, and extortion.) All people, not merely the white-picketed-married ones, are entitled to the same expectation of privacy in their intimate images.  That is, they should be able to trust the people with whom they’ve shared their pics and without being judged for it.  The purported growing trend of “social media clauses” in pre-nups suggests that people in happy marriages are already bracing themselves for privacy breaches, though.

 YES, LET’S BLAME!

Tech-blame, that is.  Anyone who intends to share or record intimate images via a digital medium must be mindful of their privacy settings. Devices should be password protected, images we wish to remain private should not remain on communal devices, and settings (or “preferences” in Apple jargon) should be set to the most restrictive.   That said, from the stealth fact checking of GQ, we know that no amount of technodisability would’ve led to this feeble plotline. But really, don’t share your passwords.  Don’t use public servers that don’t require passwords.  Log out at the Apple Store.  Encrypt stuff.  Have unique passwords for every device and login.  They should each be 77 characters or longer with no repeating letters or numbers, not include words in the dictionary, with a 3:2 ratio of consonants to vowels, numbers that collectively add up to your age minus the square root of your European shoe size, and at least three nonconsecutive letters from your mother’s mother’s mother’s maiden name. And be sure to change after each use.

In conclusion, this is one Sex Tape we’re staying out of.