The following has been extrapolated from the book, "Creating A Mindset That Our Actions Are Public and Permanent" by Richard Guerry and has been reprinted by permission.
Would you share sexually explicit pictures and videos of yourself with the world? It is astounding how many individuals and organizations actually promote the act of sexting for adults as “fun” or “flirtatious.” It is terrifying to read articles with statements like “start sexting your spouse and tell me what comes of it.” Think adult sexting is fun and flirty? Here are a few points to ponder:
What would you do if you lost your phone and your sexting texts, images or videos ended up on the World Wide Web?
What would you say if your friends or family members saw and shared the texts or images?
How would you feel if your “private” photos became adult content for an illegal adult website?
How would you react if you were blackmailed or exploited because of this content?
And finally, how can you expect your children to be responsible with technology if you fail to provide a good example for them to follow. Truth is, we don’t live in the old do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do world anymore.
If we don’t buckle up when we get into the car, how can we possibly expect our children to develop the habit? It’s the same in the digital realm. If we don’t protect our own digital reputations, how can we possibly expect our children to develop a Digital Consciousness™ – an understanding that their actions are Public and Permanent? I have some questions for those individuals and organizations promoting “sexting.”
What would your advice be to the individual that loses their phone with their “fun sexting” texts, images or videos on it when their friend, family member or community member finds it, sees it, and shares it?
What would you tell them when they find their “fun” has become adult content for an illegal adult website?
What would you tell them if they are blackmailed because of this content, or found themselves in the middle of an exploitation situation?
Here are examples of what can – and does – happen to people who have engaged in sexting – regardless of their ages. Let’s start with the most basic consequence blackmail. What would you do if you received an email that had a real (supposed to be “private”) naked picture of you attached with an ultimatum that said: “You will send money to the following address and you will reply to this email with more nude pictures of yourself within 6 hours. If you do not comply, the attached naked picture of you will go up onto an adult website, and it will be sent to all of your friends and family.” Many citizens say, “I would call the police!” But what will local, state or federal police be able to do if this email comes from an individual outside of your country? Take a look at this real-life situation: A northern Iowa man who threatened to publicize sexually explicit photos of his former girlfriend taken when she was a minor pleaded guilty Wednesday to child pornography and extortion charges. Roegner admitted that, beginning on May 30, he sent a series of messages on MySpace to a former girlfriend, threatening to post the explicit photos online unless she agreed to meet with him. One of the messages had two pictures attached that said, “…u wouldn’t want anyone to see these.” A later message said, “…if I don’t hear back from u by next Wednesday I will post them.” (Schulte, 2010) There are a variety of ways and reasons to be blackmailed by somebody, but being responsible and having a mindset that your actions in a digital world are Public and Permanent will drastically reduce the odds of anything happening to you. Why? Because if you don’t put questionable content “out there” then criminals won’t have anything to find that could be used to blackmail you. Makes sense right? To make sure you understand how real this threat is, here is another example of just how scary the Consequences of poor digital judgment can be: This is a real story coming out of Ottawa, Canada. What may bother you is that this is not a rare activity on the “dark” side of the web. Kanata teen Ryan McCann first hooked girls as young as 14 with promises of thousands of dollars to perform via web cam. Then he tricked, threatened and blackmailed them into performing more degrading "shows" for clients of his company, [omitted]. The acts included penetrating themselves with hair brushes, simulating oral sex on flashlights until they gagged and writing "dirty slut" on their breasts or "fat ass" on their buttocks. (Gillis, 2010) What you have to realize is that the capture and conviction of the C.E.L in the previous example does not take the content of these girls off of the hard drives of his clients ─ or off of the web. The girls’ content will be there forever. It will be part of their legacy ─ it is Public and Permanent.
Do not have the perception that this only happens to kids. In fact, it is a legally safer “play” to exploit adults for money because there are no child-related legal violations. If the victims described in the previous two blackmail examples had a Digital Consciousness™ ─ a mindset that their digital activity was Public and Permanent – perhaps they would not be standing in front of their digital cameras and web cameras for “quick cash” or for “sexy fun.” Perhaps these individuals never become victims of their own blind insanity because they would have possessed a thought system to prevent it! The fact is, just a few minutes of independent research on the topic of what is now being called Sextortion (research does not mean participate in it) will reveal some very disturbing information about the “dark” behavior taking place on the digital black market. However, and I cannot be clear enough, the common theme across almost all stories and situations is that the chain of events leading up to the actual blackmail and extortion starts with the victim’s lack of Digital Consciousness™. As you review the examples provided herein, ponder the chances of these situations ever happening if the victims had a preventative mindset that their actions would be Public and Permanent™.
Richard Guerry is the founder of the non-profit organization, the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC2.org). Since June 2009, Richard has spoken to over 3,000 audiences across the United States and Canada in an effort to develop Digital Consciousness™. Richard is also:
• An author of multiple cyber safety and citizenship books
• A featured speaker or keynote at many national conferences and conventions (including but not limited to the National Conference on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention, the International Bullying Prevention Association, and the National Symposium on Child Abuse.)
• Appeared as a digital safety expert on various media outlets like CNN, Radio Disney, MTV, Parade Magazine and many other local, regional, and international networks and publications.