Pamela Chan
June 22, 2015 12:58 pm

Unfortunate as it may seem, the Internet is an all-too-easy treasure trove of chances for trolls to easily harass and continue to cyber-harm. And women, for the most part, have been on the receiving end of some of the nastiest forms of online harassment known to the man, particularly revenge porn—a.k.a. sexually explicit photos shared on the web without the subject’s consent.

These revealing images (as well as highly personal information) are not just briefly humiliating, but often end up dominating the search results for a person’s name. They aren’t just simply posted, but they get endlessly shared, go on to appear in too many unwanted places, rise up the ranks, and as a result, are extremely consequential. Countless victims have engaged in legal maneuvers hoping to get the images removed, while some have even gone as far as trying to change their identities as a means of escape.

Most attempts to combat these attacks, however, have been unsuccessful, causing us to helplessly wonder if it will be yet another serious problem we have to continue worrying about.

Well, here’s a little something nice to start off your work week: Google is planting itself firmly in front of the battle lines to fight off “revenge porn.” Starting in a few weeks, the mega and unarguably most popularly-used info-finding engine (it accounts for nearly seventy percent of the global search market) will start honoring requests to remove from its search results nude or sexually explicit images that have been posted without consent.

In the same way it’s been removing other sorts of sensitive information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers on the Internet, Google announced Friday that victims will be able to submit requests through an online form in the coming weeks. A statement from the company asserts:

Though it’s just one small step in the right direction, the new move is nothing less than major. It’s a definite sign that even big tech giants have begun to recognize the fine line between free speech and a right to protect one’s deeply personal information. It’s a much-needed affirmation that people deserve complete and total control over what is public and what is private. And it will no doubt take the lead in the ongoing conversations about an “open Internet.”

Sites like Twitter and Reddit having already tried banning revenge porn on their respective platforms. Governments have been trying to find ways to prosecute cyber bullies, and as of right now, Facebook has a team of people solely dedicated to handling user complaints about sexually explicit images, as well as hate speech and other forms of harassment.

Kudos to everyone attempting to make a difference—to not be tempted to wave this fast-spreading phenomenon off as some kind of ephemeral cyberharm. Internet harm does not (and will not) drift away on its own. Luckily, those in power are acknowledging the moral implications of this issue and are firmly pushing to fend off possible privacy attacks.

“We have come to a cultural consensus that the exploitation of nude photos and videos without consent is unacceptable, harmful, and valueless and Google is recognizing it with its new position in search results,” University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, told USA Today. “This is the next crucial, logical step.”

In response to Google’s announcement, many commenters have taken to company’s blog to applaud the move.

“As a revenge porn victim, this news is life-changing. Finally, I can begin combatting the harsh reality I’ve faced daily for two years – that my sexual assault and the revenge porn videos of it live online with no remedy to remove them from search results.”

Meanwhile, another commenter, who praised the move, noted that there’s still work to be done.

“If we truly want to end a world where sexual exploitation is the norm, then we have to end the sexualization of women and girls. Women are human beings, and deserve to be seen and treated as human beings.”

To be fair, Google recognizes their move isn’t a solution, but a step towards change.
“We know this won’t solve the problem of revenge porn,” notes a statement on Google’s blog. “We aren’t able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves—but we hope that honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help.”
Let’s hope it does.
(Image via Shutterstock)
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