This week’s Young Innovator is our resident intern and researcher at Meeco, Aviva Killian. Aviva is studying Philosophy at the University of Sydney. A self confessed ‘existential detective’ Aviva has drawn on her research skills, personal experience, creativity (and sarcasm) to challenge the status quo. Aviva hopes that this story will give readers an insight into it’s like to grow up in the 2010s and how technology is affecting the formation of identities and relationships.
An Australian survey published by Latrobe University reported that almost 50% out of 2000 year 12 students had sex before leaving high school. Of that figure, more than half reported sending naughty nudes to each other. In the U.K a study revealed that teenage girls were twice as susceptible to sending sexy selfies than their male cohorts, and in most cases, just as vulnerable to misuse and abuse. Similar results ring true across America, though precise figures vary State to State. I’m not sure what the data suggests for other countries, but my suspicion is that this is most likely a worldwide trend, at least in regards to developed nations where a dopamine/ oxytocin rush is just a snap away.
“Attempts to indulge in some of the privileges that accompany age are often done so without the caution and reflection that comes with experience.”
Using these figures as an indication and speaking from personal experience I can tell you that millennial kids don’t really see themselves as kids, and that the desire to be seen as an adult can at times be extremely overbearing.
Attempts to indulge in some of the privileges that accompany age are often done so without the caution and reflection that comes with experience, especially in the digital domain.
If at this point you’re a parent and your worried, angry or embarrassed, just think about that time your parents picked up the landline and caught you having suspicious conversations about ‘homework’ with your high school sweetheart.
This phenomenon is already huge and it follows as a natural step in the progression of exploring sexual identities and behavioural norms in online social contexts. The fact is, that sexting and producing explicit content among teens is extremely common, and increasingly so.
So common in fact, that the first person I asked as part of background research for this article, frantically called me in a state of panic five minutes after I emailed asking her whether she’d ever taken sexy pics and sent them to someone. “WHY?! WHAT HAPPENED? WHATS GOING ON?!” the words spat out of her mouth in a frenzy like bees pouring from a hive. “No, No, nothing!” I replied, “I’m just doing some research for an article I’m writing…” – a moments silence, then laughter ensued.
“The fact is, that sexting and producing explicit content among teens is extremely common, and increasingly so.”
She proceeded to tell me that between 2010 and 2013 when she was in her senior years of high school, there had been several situations where nude photos of friends had been circulated and subsequently crossed her path by means of text or social media. This was most prevalent around ages 14-16 , although some carried on to the final year of high school and 18+. Back then most of the naughty behaviour and sexting took place via text, but does the same hold for kids today?
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
He’s mostly on Facebook, Snapchat and tumblr, or you can send him a saucy text the old fashioned way if you want. However, Snapchat has deservedly gained notoriety for catering to the modern sexter’s needs, though this claim couldn’t be any more misrepresented. If you’d like some evidence, just search #snapchat on tumblr or Instagram and see what sort of content comes up.
Snapchat allows users to send short video clips and pictures with an *imaginary expiry date set at the users discretion from 1 – 10 seconds. It’s the third most popular app amongst millennials after Facebook and Instagram. The app itself was never designed to be a vehicle for sexually explicit behavior, or so they say, but rather a fun and new way to communicate via image based content. The ability to take videos, add text and create storylines developed from this principle.
*Imaginary because of the surrounding controversy around whether snapchat actually does delete it’s database of content, or on the other hand, stores the content and then waits for it to get hacked by criminals.
However, this doesn’t seem to account for the fact that I’ve received more unsolicited nude pics there than in any other platform or online space… in fact, I haven’t received nude pictures on any other site or in any other app whatsoever. I have however been asked on Tinder to send naughty via snapchat, a common grooming tactic in the cybersex playbook, even for underage tinder.
So what is it that makes kids feel comfortable to behave this way using Snapchat? Could be due to its design which has been constructed to give off a transient playful experience, almost reminiscent of youth itself? Or is it that Snapchat, unlike Facebook messenger, doesn’t display a gallery? (Where parents can take a sneak peek of what you’ve been up to.)
The Naughty Platforms
However, these kids don’t actually believe that their photos destruct after ten seconds, and even though they are aware of the fact that a recipient can screenshot images and use other apps to save videos, there still exists a notion of irresponsibility and unaccountability for where that content may end up. In other words, “It’s not my fault he took the screenshot and showed it to his mates” or “it’s Snapchat’s fault”, like an ephemeral façade of security.
While Snapchat may have never been intended for porn, it’s hard to not to argue that some of its newer features accommodate for it, such as Snapcash, a service that lets you pay people for snaps. Personalized sex shows have been known to fetch in around $20 per snap, porn stars and amateurs across the world are certainly capitalizing this utility.
“The private domain so to speak, does not exist for my generation.”
Let me make this clear, there is no way of telling where a picture may end up once it has been sent to someone regardless of what app or device, whether on Snapchat, Facebook, via another messaging service such as Kik, Whatsapp or via text. The private domain so to speak, does not exist for my generation.
Another app or service worth mentioning is “Kik”, a social app that creates private chat rooms from already existing social networks and apps. Kik has become a popular domain for pedophiles and predators due to it’s anonymity and the fact that it does not require mobile number verification, as do other messaging services such as Watsapp and Viber. Another feature of Kik is that it’s been working in cooperation with a multiplicity of pornsites and apps, allowing users to jump between their networks, so you can talk about your homework in one window, and flirt with guy from a sex site in the other.
There are a number of blogs dedicated solely to the purpose of uploading and sharing pornographic content that has been ‘captured’ from Snapchat. It‘s worth noting that many of the pictures and content on these sites are uploaded or submitted by the subjects themselves. However, not every photograph has been submitted consensually, and often websites that profit from these cases won’t take down the material unless a takedown service or legal solicitation is involved, which costs around US $300 per photograph, and takes up to 3 days.
Usually by the time the photographs are taken down its too late and the devastating social effects of isolation and mortifying embarrassment have already taken ahold of the victim.
“Usually by the time the photographs are taken down its too late…”
Self exposure and the pressure to perform
Uploading naked selfies can also be considered as a display of protest to the patriarchy and empowerment amongst the underground subculture currents of the infamously porno yet femme power platform; tumblr. I interviewed a group of schoolgirls who are in their final year of high school and a little bit tumblr famous. We talked about how common it is for followers to post pictures like the aforementioned.
One girl told me about how… “tumblr doesn’t feel like social networking in a sense, but more like self expression. You don’t necessarily know your followers personally, there aren’t really the same sort of consequences in revealing or expressing yourself sexually amongst a group of strangers, its almost like you are given the opportunity to create an illusion of you via curated aesthetics.” When I asked her whether her friends considered their privacy or right to control of their images, she replied swiftly with a “Pssshhhht”. “I don’t think they even consider it.
“Why is it that Gen Y and Gen Z just don’t care about their privacy and the irrevocable consequences behind not doing so?”
Her words were sobering, but true. I wanted to write this article with an optimistic outlook in mind, I went into it looking to find new alternatives to the current view of adolescents and their delinquent online behavior, but instead, the more digging I did, the deeper in this mess I found myself. Why is it that Gen Y and Gen Z just don’t care about their privacy and the irrevocable consequences behind not doing so? Can we get away with blaming our parents?
Popular topics and issues outweigh concerns for privacy
My conclusion is that millennials do care about privacy, they just don’t care as much (in general) as they do about other topics. Our social media feeds are filled with content about queer rights, rights for people of color, rights for indigenous peoples, refugees, and other social entities that circulate through a predominately mainstream media.
We need to make privacy ‘sexy’ and ‘trending’. We need to make it mature and elusive for those who currently see it as boring or non inclusive. I’ve used the example of sexting because it has very immediate and direct consequences for the individuals and subjects involved – jail time. Federal legislation in Australia concerning instances of business to person violations of privacy fall under the Privacy Act, but there are no grounds to sue individuals for personal invasions of privacy.
“We need to make privacy sexy and trending.”
This means that the exact rules of what constitutes appropriate online behavior vary from State to State, making the issue very confusing for teens and those who aren’t of consenting age, especially when the criteria of what constitutes as inappropriate is referred to as “Offensive to the average person”. What’s more, there seems to be a double standard in policy for those who create the content under circumstances of coercion, and those who distribute that content without consent, as if the two were mutually interchangeable.
In the U.S. the issue of legislation has added complexity as it hinges on a State to State approach.
Should there be consequences?
Maybe we should ask ourselves more broadly; what should and shouldn’t be private?
What sort of consequences, if any, should exist if these rights are abused?
These are questions that make the root of the issue unclear, because it’s not obvious to a kid growing up in the digital age why Facebook wouldn’t be punished for the distribution of such content, or Snapchat or any site, app or service rather than the individual.
For the time being, legislation surrounding the distribution and creation of sexually explicit or suggestive content of minors is skewed somewhat towards reprimanding the kids themselves. While this may deter kids under the age of 13, high school students, generally speaking, seem to care less about breaking the law when it comes to adult activities such as drinking alcohol and having underage sex. After all, they are just raging with hormones that make risks look like opportunities.
“There’s nothing worse than being told not to do something by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.”
Parents who are concerned with the prospect of their teens getting up to some of this naughty behavior ought to be, there are real consequences to every decision we make in online spaces. However, before you rip away their cellphones and bolt the computer to the end of your desk, do yourself a favour and become familiar with the apps themselves, there’s nothing worse than being told not to do something by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about. Mums, dads and other persons simply need to keep updated and engaged in the technology so that they can talk about it. Educating teens is more about a conversation and building relationships of trust and respect, less about do this do that.
But I get to say this because I’m still young… So:
KIDS! GROW UP! STOP TRYING TO ACT LIKE NAUGHTY ADULTS! OR AT LEAST DO IT IN A PRIVATE CLOUD WITH HIGH ENCRYPTION STANDARDS… OR JUST DON’T SHARE!