How many times have you received a forwarded message that contains photographs or a video of someone being violated or humiliated? What do you do with it? Do you pass it on? Or do you stop its spread? Do you forward? Or do you delete?
A 15-year old girl was drugged and raped by two boys at a school in South Africa in November 2010. The rape happened in front of other pupils who stood by, and recorded the incident on their mobile phones. No one tried to stop what was going on. And the rape continues - the video clip of the rape was distributed online and passed on through mobile phones. A similar incident happened in Canada in the same year, where photographs taken of a 16-year old girl who was drugged and raped at a rave party were posted and circulated on social networking sites, in emails and SMS. All this despite repeated attempts by the girl's family and police to stop it.
Organisations that work on survivors of domestic violence in Malaysia report that there has been an increase in calls from women - especially younger women - who are trapped in violent relationships because their husband or partner has intimate video clips or photographs of them. In February 2009, the issue hit national headlines when private photographs of a popular female public official was sent to a local daily. While the newspaper did not publish the pictures, they were subsequently posted and spread by individual users online and through MMS.
These are not isolated incidents.
Developments in information and communication technologies, or ICT, such as camera-enabled mobile phones, social networking and photo sharing sites make it very easy for users to document and share our private moments. This can have great potential to help us connect meaningfully with the people we know, such as our friends or family. It can also help us to shape and self-define our identity and the diverse realities we live in.
However, many of us also do not stop and think about the potential long-term impact of our action when we record, share and pass on information using ICT.
The culture of sharing is not accompanied by a culture of respecting our right to privacy and safety. Boyfriends and girlfriends rarely make commitments and plans to delete private photographs of each other when they snap them. What happens when the relationship breaks down and one of them decides to post them online? What about the people who receive and forward the images and videos? In each act of viewing and forwarding, they are continuing and replicating the violence.
What does the sharing of this material mean for the person who has been humiliated, or whose right to privacy has been severely violated? She has to live with the knowledge that what happened to her is being distributed, replicated and viewed by thousands even tens of thousands of people.
Many people think that it is ok to forward material like this. They argue that the damage is already done and that they are just doing what everyone else has done already by sharing it.
But the very act of passing it on is another act of violence.
You have the power to stop the spread. Take a stand. Don’t forward.