IA Blog: The practice and consequences of ‘Sexting’ not confined to the young

Reading, UK – January, 2012 Whilst people continue to try and associate the practice of ‘sexting’ with sending inappropriate text based messages the fact is that ‘sexting’ is all about images and videos being sent and received. The growth in the activity is a direct result of the proliferation of internet enabled devices such as smartphones and associated ease of internet access.

When reports of the activity first hit the news it was firmly associated with young people, many of whom were putting themselves at risk by sending and posting inappropriate pictures with seemingly little regard for the consequences of their actions. With many of the youngsters involved being minors in law the activity appeared to fall foul of sexual offences legislation and in the early days there were a number of unusual and shocking situations where young people were actually being prosecuted. Thankfully legislators and law enforcement now seem to be taking a more pragmatic approach and parents and guardians are turning to technology like Image Analyzer to highlight the problem early and then approach the issue in a more consultative and educational manner.

The practice of ‘sexting’ is clearly spreading and is now creating problems in the world of work. In a recent excellent article for the Army Times Titled”Explicit messages, images put careers at risk”(1) Joe Gould and Gina Cavallaro highlight the reasons behind the growth in ‘sexting’ and the specific damaging effect it is having on military careers and relationships.

Interestingly it is the development of devices such as smartphones and the availability of internet connection which is compounding the problem. As the article points out, many people now seem less concerned about the consequences of their actions,”some observers note the popularity of texting, coupled with the ease of using a cellphone’s camera and the ability to instantly transmit images, have ushered in an era in which people take a more casual view of once carefully calculated efforts to conceal sexually explicit behaviour.”

There is no specific mention of ‘sexting’ in the Uniform Code of Military Justice but the service has”a history of coming down hard on illicit activity and poor judgment”.  The article points out that the consequences for officers can be even more serious,”the consequences of having images and compromising messages fall into the wrong hands can cause trouble for any service member,”said Jack Zimmermann, a retired Marine prosecutor and criminal trial judge based in Houston. “But for officers, held to a higher standard, the fallout can be especially severe.”

The ease of transmission of images via new smartphones and the internet means that inappropriate images can spread virally,”Yale University military justice scholar Eugene Fidell said wireless technology has raised the stakes. It is such that with a few keystrokes, something like this can reach thousands of people and inflict great pain on the victim.”

The article raises a number of interesting questions:

  1. Are people unaware of the consequences of their actions or do they simply not care?
  2. Would the provision of filtering deter such behaviour and lessen inappropriate behaviour and hence protect people from the consequences of their own behaviour?
  3. Should employers now include ‘Sexting’ within terms of their existing Acceptable Use Policies?

In the opinion of Image Analyser once again it would appear that technology is developing faster than the guidelines for its usage. In the case of ‘sexting’ this is causing potential harm to those indulging in the practice, both young and old.