‘Revenge porn:’ did advertising website enable a bully?

Posted November 21, 2013

Written by Beth Lyons



(This post originally appeared in the Times and Transcript on November 21st, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

 

On Nov. 6, an advertisement for an iPhone with a shattered screen went up on Kijiji, the popular online classifieds site, in the Moncton area. It was one of those ads that isn’t really about selling something, but about giving a witheringly sarcastic performance, making a scathing public point, under the guise of a classified ad. In this case, the performance is a public shaming for acts of infidelity.

By the way the ad was written (i.e. heterosexuality seems to be a given), it’s clear that its poster is a man who was cheated on by a woman. The premise of the Kijiji screed was that, post-infidelity, the phone the woman used is in the poster’s possession and he not only wants to show off that he’s smashed the phone’s screen (“for good reason,” he explained) but that the texts and photos his former partner sent via the phone, along with contact information for various people in her life (minus his own contacts, of course), are still very much accessible on the phone and up for grabs. The texts detail sexual activity (“sexts” if you will) and the photos include nude images (“selfies” by the sounds of things).

The poster mentioned the contents of the phone as a value added bonus that could be useful to a buyer who’s interested in venturing into sexting and sending nude selfies but may need a little guidance. “If you’re too bashful to try sexting, I left all the texts on the phone so you can see some good examples. Don’t be shy,” he wrote. “If you need some ideas how to do this, I left all the pictures on the phone so you see how it’s done.”

And what was his asking price? “I only want $10 for the phone, but would consider trading it for some socks.”

The poster broke ‘character’ a few times. He made a direct aside to the woman who cheated on him, noting that in one photo she’s wearing jewelry he gave her. At the end of the post, he eventually added an addendum noting that Kijiji had briefly taken the ad down, but reinstated it and then acknowledges folks for emailing him about his humour. Kijiji has since taken the ad down permanently, stating that the site “does not allow posting an ad that contains adult, mature or erotic content, one that defames anyone, or one (that) contains ‘hate speech’ . . .”

Obviously, the ad wasn’t really about selling a broken phone; the phone was probably never really up for grabs. The ad was about this man showing off how much power he has over a woman who wronged him even though they’re (presumably) no longer involved. The ad was about exacting revenge on a woman by threatening her privacy (and the privacy of any friends, family, or coworkers in her contact list). The ad was about publicly shaming a woman’s sex life. And, if the phone had actually been sold (which I don’t think is the intention of the poster, but could happen), this ad would have made a woman a target for harassment and possibly endangered her safety.

If you think this ad was harmless fun, or that this man’s former intimate partner deserves a public take-down because of her actions, I ask you to think about this from the perspective of violence against women for just a few moments.

This man was making a point of showing that he damaged property that was no doubt important to his former partner.

This man was shaming and attempting to humiliate his former partner in a highly public milieu.

This man was making a point of demonstrating to his former partner that he can mess with her life even though they’re no longer together.

This man was threatening to release intimate images of her without her consent. (This particularly insidious way of shaming and humiliating women is known as revenge porn and has very real consequences for women’s safety, employability, etc. Young women have killed themselves over revenge porn.)

Place these actions in the context of women’s lived reality, in the context that we live in a society where violence against women is pervasive. Consider this story from the perspective of a woman’s very real, very legitimate concern for her safety — as I suspect this man’s ex did.

This isn’t about whether this man is really going to hand off the phone to someone else. The threat is the point, because the threat is enough to paralyze a woman’s life, to destroy her sense of security. Women walk in the dark with keys between our knuckles, ready to jab potential unknown assailants; we sit at computers with bits of paper taped over the built-in cameras in case someone hacks in and broadcasts our image over the Internet. Women’s lives are built around and limited by fear and risk-management. It has become second nature for women to navigate the world as a hostile environment; so much so that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it — it’s just part of our routine.

And if this was all a joke? We can breathe a sigh of relief for the woman at the centre of the ad’s vitriol, but the greater harm done will still stand. Women in our community and beyond not only saw the ad, but saw Kijiji reinstate it a number of times, and saw friends gleefully share it on Facebook for a laugh. Women saw the vulnerability and potential humiliation of another woman understood as a laughing matter by the world around them. So we hold our keys a little tighter and we double check the tape over our cameras because the threat is clear and we’re left to build our lives around the hostility that does not abate.

Go Back »

comments powered by Disqus