Sexting highlights the permanent nature of information we circulate via technology
Amanda Todd was just 15 years old when she committed suicide last week. She was a tenth-grade student attending school in her home town of Port Coquitlam, Canada where she was cyber bullied and tormented for a topless photo of herself that had been posted online after she had sent it to a stranger in confidence. After making a YouTube video where she expressed her “anxiety” and “major depression,” the humiliation of sending a nude image and the pain from the resulting consequences ultimately brought her to her death.
This is only one example of how sending nude and otherwise inappropriate pictures via technology can be harmful and in some cases fatal. “Sexting” as well as emailing nude photos has become a trend among teenagers. Many of these teenagers are not aware of the consequences, for if they did realize the harm they were potentially causing they would surely not partake in such dangerous activities.
In recent times, according to a nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly 20 percent of teens admitted to participating in sexting. Sexting is sending or receiving inappropriate photos or sexually suggestive messages through text message or email. While the idea of exchanging sexual content is not a new concept, new electronic devices and social media outlets have enhanced the ability of persons of all ages to exchange sexual material. Now, just by pressing “send,” we can transmit a picture to whomever we like, whenever we want and once the picture is out there it is impossible to take back.
Some reasons for sexting among teenagers are to maintain long distance relationships and also to get the attention of the opposite sex. Todd enjoyed the compliments she got when in the online chat rooms and loved the attention she received, even if it was from a stranger. Sending pictures over an anonymous online chat may seem harmless, even exciting, because the stranger does not know you and could be thousands of miles away, but they could just as easily be someone living on your street.
In addition, Snap-Chat is a new phone application that allows people to send pictures to someone and the pictures automatically delete themselves after a few seconds, without the possibility of a screenshot. This sort of application promotes sexting and may seem like the solution to teenagers’ worries when sexting. However, this application still has its flaws. For example, the receiving party may be surrounded by other people at the time you send the SnapChat, so in some cases there is no knowing how many people viewed the picture you sent. Also, it is important to consider that even if the picture self-deletes and ceases to exist after a few seconds, the fact that you sent the text is irreversible. If word spreads and people hear that you sexted someone you can still be subject to teasing and emotional consequences, regardless of whether there is physical evidence of your action. Another flaw with the application is the trust we put in technology. While we might trust the person we send the picture to, we should not always trust the technology. Problems can occur and the pictures may not erase themselves, or they may appear on some other site or be found somewhere else. Once you put something into the Internet or over a text conversation, those pictures could exist in temporary or cache files, perhaps floating in cyber space without being truly erased.
Amanda Todd learned of the permanency of sending nude images when she discovered her topless photo circulating the Internet and social networking sites. Her classmates teased and tormented her and she was humiliated, which she confessed in the YouTube video that she made prior to her death. Sexting can lead to many problems, especially if the images end up in the wrong hands. Teenagers may think that sexting is harmless and that they cannot get caught as long as they delete the images, but who is to say the person on the other end of the conversation is deleting the images as well? Though you may think you can trust the person you are engaging in sexting with, there is a possibility that they might misuse the images and that can lead to both emotional and social consequences. For Todd, it led to bullying and hurtful words from her peers, which devastated her. In her YouTube video she confessed that she cried a lot and was forced to move multiple times due to the harassment.
In addition to emotional distress, sexting can lead to legal ramifications. If an 18 year old possesses a nude picture of someone under the age of 18, it can be considered child pornography. In the state of Virginia, sexting can result in state felony charges, including felony solicitation of a minor and creation, possession and distribution of child pornography. In addition, there has been recent discussion over petitioning for federal sexting legislation that would make sexting a misdemeanor for minors.
Legal ramifications are not the only consequences of sexting though. College admission representatives and even employers can go on the Internet now and find those photos that you never thought would be posted on the Internet and refer to them when considering you.
So while you may think you can trust the person who is on the receiving end of a sext, it is not always so; especially not in the case of strangers. Betrayal by the other party involved can occur and can result in harmful consequences, emotionally, physically and even legally. If you are pressured by a long distance relationship or even by a stranger online, do not allow yourself to become a victim. Do not send pictures of yourself in compromising positions to anyone, because while you may think you are safe, you can never be sure and those pictures might come back to haunt you.
Meredith Berger is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.