Sexting and the Threat of Technology

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by angelarovak

Yesterday afternoon I attended a great lecture on campus by Profssor Amy Adele Hasinoff of Communications at the University of Colorado Denver titled “Sexting and the Politics of Privacy and Consent.” As we have discussed many of the new technologies she covered and the concepts of privacy, I wanted to share a few moments from her talk.

Most of the talk revolved around her argument that the legal ramifications of sexting, defined as creating or distributing a sexually suggesting or explicit personal image via text by mobile phone or other electronic means, should be abolished for the consenting participants. The logical conundrum that in many places in the U.S. two 17-year-olds can engage in sex acts but it be illegal for them to photograph these sex acts seems bizarre, to say the least. Also, Prof. Hasinoff pointed out how people of color and queer couples are disproportionately targeted by these laws, often serving jail time for creating “child pornography” of their own bodies. The trend to engage in this risky behavior speaks volumes about how different populations privilege, or don’t, privacy.

Now on to the interesting points about technology. I was particularly intrigued by the argument that, even though the technologies of sexting are recent, the discourse is quite old. Throughout history the conversation on how each new technology is related to or can be exploited by female sexual deviancy arises. A great example is of the telegraph, examined in an article “High Tech or High Risk” by Cassell and Cramer, where young women operators caused anxiety after stories of illicit love affairs beginning over the wires circulated in society. How the technology is blamed along with the female can be seen through many of these stories, showing yet another narrative we can consider when thinking about media development over the past few centuries.

Prof. Hasinoff hit may great points about how to change social conception and legal ramifications of sexting. I was curious about one of her suggestions to limit the privacy violations of circulating intimate images. She proposed that cellphones offer the option for user-controlled DRM on devices which would inhibit any recipient from forwarding on the item. I am curious how we all react to this? Is this an inhibition of media and technological devices? Do we believe the files and images shared between devices should be “free” to circulate? She also mentioned SnapChat as a move in the right direction for consent and privacy issues surrounding digital file sharing, but agreed that the servers which hold all images could be considered as harboring child pornography under the current laws. My intent in sharing this watered-down version of her lecture with all of us is to consider yet another aspect of the relationship between people, society, and technology. How new media change the public perceptions of consent and privacy seems to be a site ready for more reflection.

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