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How to practice safe sexting

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    People have been using media to talk
    about sex for a long time.
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    Love letters, phone sex, racy polaroids.
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    There's even a story of a girl who eloped
    with a man that she met over the telegraph
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    in 1886.
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    Today we have sexting,
    and I am a sexting expert.
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    Not an expect sexter.
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    Though, I do know what this means,
    I think you do too.
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    I have been studying sexting since
    the media attention to it began in 2008.
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    I wrote a book on the moral
    panic about sexting.
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    And here's what I found:
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    most people are worrying
    about the wrong thing.
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    They're trying to just prevent
    sexting from happening entirely.
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    But let me ask you this:
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    As long as it's completely consensual,
    what's the problem with sexting?
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    People are into all sorts of things
    that you may not be into,
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    like blue cheese or cilantro.
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    Sexting is certainly risky,
    like anything that's fun,
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    but as long as you're not sending an image
    to someone who doesn't want to receive it,
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    there's no harm.
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    What I do think is a serious problem is
    when people share private images of others
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    without their permission.
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    And instead of worrying about sexting,
    what I think we need to do
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    is think a lot more about digital privacy.
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    The key is consent.
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    Right now most people are thinking
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    about sexting without really thinking
    about consent at all.
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    Did you know we currently
    criminalize teen sexting?
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    It can be a crime because it counts
    as child pornography,
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    if there's an image of someone under 18
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    and it doesn't even matter
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    if they took that image of themselves
    and shared it willingly.
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    So we end up with this
    bizarre legal situation
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    where two 17-year-olds
    can legally have sex in most U.S. states
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    but they can't photograph it.
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    Some states have also tried passing
    sexting misdemeanor laws
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    but these laws repeat the same problem
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    because they still make
    consensual sexting illegal.
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    It doesn't make sense
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    to try to ban all sexting
    to try to address privacy violations.
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    This is kind of like saying,
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    let's solve the problem of date rape
    by just making dating completely illegal.
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    Most teens don't get arrested for sexting,
    but can you guess who does?
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    It's often teens who are disliked
    by their partner's parents.
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    And this can be because of class bias,
    racism or homophobia.
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    Most prosecutors are smart enough
    not to use child pornography charges
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    against teenagers but some do.
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    According to researchers
    at the University of New Hampshire
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    seven percent of all child pornography
    possession arrests are teens,
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    sexting consensually with other teens.
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    Child pornography is a serious crime,
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    but it's just not
    the same thing as teen sexting.
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    Parents and educators are also
    responding to sexting
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    without really thinking
    too much about consent.
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    Their message to teens is often,
    just don't do it.
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    And I totally get it,
    there are serious legal risks
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    and of course,
    that potential for privacy violations.
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    And when you were a teen,
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    I'm sure you did exactly
    as you were told, right?
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    You're probably thinking,
    my kid would never sext.
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    And that's true, your little angel
    may not be sexting
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    because only 33% of 16 and
    17-year-olds are sexting.
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    But, sorry, by the time they're older,
    odds are they will be sexting.
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    Every study I've seen puts the rate
    above 50% for 18 to 24-year-olds.
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    And most of the time,
    nothing goes wrong.
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    People ask me all the time things like,
    isn't sexting just so dangerous, though,
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    like you wouldn't leave your wallet
    on a park bench
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    and you expect it's gonna get stolen
    if you do that, right?
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    Here's how I think about it:
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    sexting is like leaving your wallet
    at your boyfriend's house.
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    If you come back the next day
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    and all the money is just gone,
    you really need to dump that guy.
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    So instead of criminalizing sexting to try
    to prevent these privacy violations,
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    instead we need to make consent central
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    to how we think about the circulation
    of our private information.
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    Every new media technology
    raises privacy concerns.
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    In fact, in the U.S. the very first
    major debates about privacy
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    were in response to technologies
    that were relatively new at the time.
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    In the late 1800s, people were
    worried about cameras,
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    which were just suddenly more portable
    than ever before,
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    and newspaper gossip columns.
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    They were worried that the camera
    would capture information about them,
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    take it out of context
    and widely disseminate it.
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    Does this sound familiar?
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    It's exactly what we're worrying about
    now with social media and drone cameras.
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    and, of course, sexting.
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    And these fears about technology,
    they make sense because technologies
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    can amplify and bring out
    our worst qualities and behaviors.
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    But there are solutions.
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    And we've been here before
    with a dangerous new technology.
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    In 1908, Ford introduced the Model T car.
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    Traffic fatality rates were rising.
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    It was a serious problem --
    it looks so safe, right?
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    Our first response was to try
    to change drivers behavior,
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    so we developed speed limits and
    enforced them through fines.
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    But over the following decades,
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    we started to realize the technology
    of the car itself is not just neutral.
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    We could design the car to make it safer.
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    So in the 1920s, we got
    shatter-resistant windshields.
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    In the 1950s, seatbelts.
    And in the 1990s, airbags.
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    All three of these areas:
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    laws, individuals, industry
    came together
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    over time to help solve the problem
    that a new technology causes.
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    And we can do the same thing
    with digital privacy.
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    Of course, it comes back to consent.
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    Here's the idea.
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    Before anyone can distribute
    your private information,
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    they should have to get your permission.
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    This idea of affirmative consent
    comes from anti-rape activists who tell us
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    that we need consent for every sexual act.
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    And we have really high standards
    for consent in a lot of other areas.
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    Think about having surgery.
    Your doctor has to make sure that
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    you are meaningfully and knowingly
    consenting to that medical procedure.
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    This is not the type of consent with
    an iTunes Terms of Service
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    where you scroll to the bottom and
    you're like, agree, agree, whatever.
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    If we think more about consent,
    we can have better privacy laws.
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    Right now we just don't have
    that many protections.
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    If your ex-husband or your ex-wife
    is a terrible person,
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    they can take your nude photos
    and upload them to a porn site.
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    It can be really hard to get
    those images taken down.
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    And in a lot of states,
    you're actually better off
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    if you took the images of yourself
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    because then you can
    file a copyright claim.
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    Right now, if someone
    violates your privacy,
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    whether that's an individual or
    a company or the NSA,
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    you can try filing a lawsuit,
    though you may not be successful
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    because many courts assume that
    digital privacy is just impossible.
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    So they're not willing to punish
    anyone for violating it.
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    I still hear people
    asking me all the time,
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    isn't a digital image somehow blurring
    the line between public and private
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    because it's digital, right?
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    No! No!
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    Everything digital is not
    just automatically public.
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    That doesn't make any sense.
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    As NYU legal scholar
    Helen Nissenbaum tells us,
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    we have laws and policies
    and norms that protect
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    all kinds of information that's private,
    and it doesn't make a difference
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    if it's digital or not.
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    All of your health records
    are digitized but your doctor
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    can't just share them with anyone.
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    All of your financial information
    is held in digital databases,
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    but your credit card company can't
    just post your purchase history online.
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    Better laws could help address
    privacy violations after they happen,
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    but one of the easiest things
    we can all do is make personal changes.
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    to help protect each other's privacy.
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    We're always told that privacy is our
    own, sole, individual responsibility.
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    We're told, constantly monitor
    and update your privacy settings.
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    We're told never share anything you
    wouldn't want the entire world to see.
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    This doesn't make sense.
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    Digital media are social environments
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    and we share things
    with people we trust all day, every day.
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    As Princeton researcher
    Jennifer ?argues,
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    our data and are privacy,
    they're not just personal,
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    they're actually interpersonal
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    And so one thing you can do,
    that's really easy
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    is just start asking for permission before
    you share anyone else's information.
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    If you want to post a photo
    of someone online, ask for permission.
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    If you want to forward an email thread,
    ask for permission.
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    And if you want to share someone's nude
    selfie, obviously, ask for permission.
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    These individual changes can really
    help us protect each other's privacy,
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    but we need technology companies
    on board as well.
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    These companies have very little
    incentive to help protect our privacy
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    because their business models depend on
    us sharing everything
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    with as many people as possible.
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    Right now, if I send you an image,
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    you can forward that
    to anyone that you want.
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    But what if I got to decide
    if that image was forwardable or not?
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    This would tell you that you don't
    have my permission to send this image out.
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    We do this kind of thing all the time
    to protect copy right.
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    If you buy an e-book, you can't just
    send it out to as many people as you want.
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    So why not try this with mobile phones?
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    What you can do is we can demand
    that tech companies add these protections
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    to our devices and our platforms
    as the default.
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    After all, you can choose
    the color of your car,
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    but the airbags are always standard.
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    If we don't think more about
    digital privacy and consent,
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    there can be serious consequences.
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    There was a teenager from Ohio,
    let's call her Jennifer,
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    for the sake of her privacy,
    she shared nude photos of herself
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    with her high-school boyfriend,
    thinking she could trust him.
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    Unfortunately, he betrayed her and
    sent her photos around the entire school.
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    Jennifer was embarrassed and humiliated,
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    but instead of being compassionate,
    her classmates harassed her.
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    They called her a slut and a whore.
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    They made her life miserable.
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    Jennifer started missing school
    and her grades dropped.
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    Ultimately, Jennifer decided
    to end her own life.
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    Jennifer did nothing wrong.
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    All she did was share a nude photo
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    with someone she thought
    that she could trust.
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    And yet our laws tell her
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    that she committed a horrible crime
    equivalent to child pornography.
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    Our gender norms tell her that
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    by producing this nude image of herself,
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    she somehow did this horrible,
    shameful thing.
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    And when we assume that privacy
    is impossible in digital media,
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    we completely write-off and excuse
    her boyfriend's bad, bad behavior.
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    People are still saying all the time
    to victims of privacy violations,
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    what were you thinking?
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    You should have never sent that image.
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    If you're trying to figure out
    what to say instead, try this.
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    Imagine you've run into your friend
    who broke their leg skiing.
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    They took a risk to do something fun
    and it didn't end well.
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    But you're probably not going to be
    the jerk who says, well,
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    I guess you shouldn't
    have gone skiing then.
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    If we think more about consent,
    we can see that
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    victims of privacy violations
    deserve our compassion,
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    not criminalization, shaming,
    harassment, or punishment.
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    We can support victims and
    we can prevent some privacy violations
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    by making these legal, individual
    and technological changes.
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    Because the problem is not sexting,
    the issue is digital privacy.
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    And one solution is consent.
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    So the next time a victim
    of a privacy violation comes up to you,
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    instead of blaming them,
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    let's do this instead:
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    Let's shift our ideas
    about digital privacy and
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    let's respond with compassion.
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    Thank you.
How to practice safe sexting
Amy Adele Hasinoff

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