It’s no secret that the sexually explicit photos teens (stupidly) post online could be stolen, but a new study sheds light on how frequently such images are reposted. The Internet Watch Foundation found that 88% of teens’ videos and photos are stolen, sometimes by a cottage industry of ‘parasite websites’ that exist for the sole purpose of harvesting candid teenage photos. “I came to regret posting photographs of myself naively on the Internet and tried to forget about it, but strangers recognized me from the photographs and made lewd remarks at school. I endured so much bullying because of this photograph and the others…I was eventually admitted for severe depression and was treated for a suicide attempt,” reported one child.
The IWF analyzed 12,000 images and videos from 68 ‘discrete’ websites, including social networks, and found that 10,000 of those had been reposted. In some cases, pictures were harvested from stolen phones “…the photos were on a phone that was stolen around 2 years ago…the photos were taken when i [sic] was under 17 years old,” The new findings on the heels of research that finds teenage sexting is quickly becoming the norm.
In some cases, images are appended to names and show up on the first page of search results. “One explicit image I took when I was young but I cannot be specific to if I was 15 or 16 because it was long ago, and I never posted it to the internet…It is coming up on the first page of [search engine] also if my name is searched and on [search engine] images for my name which could jeopardize any future career I have or if any family/friends come across it.”
The study of course can’t look at private messages between smartphones, those exchanged over email, or behind the firewall of protected social networks. Nor does it know whether such images are voluntary or coerced. Despite the limitations, the IWF finds that a disturbing number of images are stolen, providing a good lesson for persuading teens not to post pictures of themselves online: if teens post sexually explicit photos, they’ll most likely be reposted online without permission.