As a libertarian who is unable to maintain an erection unless I think my partner is either, a) currently in emotional distress or, b) likely to be at some point in the future, all this talk about “revenge porn” has got me all hot and bothered. By which I mean that not only has it left me nursing a semi, but – as a ban would be thoroughly illiberal – it’s really annoyed me as well.
(That kinky stuff isn’t actually true, reader. But if you’re an attractive young woman with low self-esteem and you were thinking about sending me a photo of yourself topless and crying, you’re more than welcome to, I suppose.)
“Revenge porn”, then – what the dilly, yo? Intimate pictures taken by young lovers are, upon an acrimonious break up, made public, so that non-lovers can enjoy them too. A great deal of embarrassment ensues. All very unpleasant, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It’s obviously distasteful, horribly sleazy, possibly immoral, certainly petty, – but criminal? Unless those primitive tribes whose members refuse to have their picture taken because it would steal a part of their souls are right after all, no. This really shouldn’t need to be said, but being “in” a photo does not grant you property rights in it.
So far, so obvious. But consider this: no one ever claims to have a veto power over the distribution of photos they are “in” unless those photos are risqué, dirty, lewd. Think of those embarrassing snaps you’d rather no one saw. Bad haircuts, fashion faux pas, or questionable facial hair are nowhere taken to be grounds for ownership. But why not? There’s no logical reason to draw a distinction between sexual and non-sexual pictures that cause embarrassment.
Now consider sharing. If it’s legitimate for a lady to show her mates the intimate pictures her fella sent her (for purposes of, I don’t know, comparison or whatnot), it must be legitimate for her to show them to a larger audience via the internet. It’s the same thing, only on a larger scale, and scale doesn’t affect the underlying principle. Hence, if the latter is not legitimate neither is the former, and non-internet-based sharing of photos that might cause embarassment must be outlawed too.
Given that there is no genuine distinction between “dirty” and “clean” pictures when it comes to causing distress, and given that absolutely anything can cause (or be claimed to cause) distress to someone, we are led to the inescapable conclusion that if “revenge porn” ought to be illegal, all sharing of all photographs ought to be illegal, too.
And why stop there? What’s so special about pictures, after all?
For a related post on the “right to privacy”, see “Adam, Eve and a very private cave”
For a related – and, be warned, absolutely filthy – post on the government vs “porn culture”, see Not safe for home