From Instragram to a pornographic website without any consent. The Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office has detected a sudden increase in complaints from young women, many of them minors, who discover that photographs that they had posted on their social networks have ended up as a claim for pornographic pages.
So far this year, only in the province of Barcelona have received a fortnight of complaints of this type each month, when until before the pandemic no cases had been detected, according to the computer crime delegate prosecutor of the province of Barcelona, Roberto Valverde. The new phenomenon occurs in a context of increasing reports of computer crimes, from fraud to pornography through harassment or extortion.
The prosecutor emphasizes that the image taken from the social networks of the young women is used exclusively as a claim for the pornographic website, for example to imply that the girl can be seen naked, although later it is not. Valverde values that confinement has influenced the increase in these practices, although he believes that a new scenario must also be taken into account, of greater use and some overexposure in social networks of some young people.
It is the victims themselves who are alerted by their environment that a photo that they had freely posted on a social network, in many cases in a bikini or without much clothing, is being used to promote a pornography website. Sometimes the portals take advantage of the profiles of teenagers who, although they are not famous, accumulate thousands of followers in networks.
The fact that they are photographs uploaded to the network by the girls themselves greatly hinders the criminal prosecution of these behaviors, laments Valverde. They cannot be punished as child pornography because, although they are a claim, it is an adult website. Nor is the digital impersonation of the image and identity criminalized, despite being a historical claim of the Prosecutor’s Office, which has been demanding its inclusion in the Penal Code for more than a decade.
Criminal lawyer Laia Serra agrees that with current legislation it is “very complicated” to act against this type of digital impersonation, but at the same time recalls that, in addition to being a historical claim of the Prosecutor’s Office, the State pact against violence in Gender already contemplated in 2019 the modification of the Penal Code to cover behaviors such as the impersonation of digital identity. The reform remains unsuccessful.
“Wanting is power, and at the moment it is not wanted”, laments Serra. In addition to putting duties on the legislator to penalize these behaviors, in the opinion of this criminal lawyer, some cases, applying the gender perspective, could be investigated as a crime against moral integrity. If cases do not reach the courts, Serra warns, it is impossible for precautionary measures to be issued so that the images are deleted from the web.
However, the most common option among parents, even if a complaint is filed, ends up being to go to civil proceedings to request compensation for the fraudulent use of the images, or to urge financial sanctions for the improper use of personal data.
Beyond her criminal treatment, the sociologist and expert in digital innovation Liliana Arroyo, author of ‘You are not your’ selfie ‘(Milenio, 2020), believes it necessary to address this phenomenon from the education of minors in the use of the networks but also that the technological institutions are forced to create “safe spaces” in the networks for adolescents. “The industry has a responsibility,” he emphasizes.
This expert gives as an example of a safe space on the networks for adolescents, the restriction on the use of data derived from photos, or the express prohibition that they end up in image banks. “Young people also have to be able to experience their adolescence on the networks, which is nothing more than exploring your own identity, without being haunted by them throughout their lives,” Arroyo reasoned.
Increase in complaints
In addition to this new behavior related to photos posted on the networks of minors, the service that Valverde pilots has detected a general increase in computer crimes after the pandemic. Only in the province of Barcelona, 61 criminal proceedings for child pornography were opened last year, 169% more than in 2019, while the harassment of minors through telecommunications almost doubled.
For now, no criminal investigation has been opened to the internet portals that defend anorexia and other eating disorders, one of the health problems that has not stopped affecting young people during confinement. The only sanctions are those dictated by the Generalitat administratively, such as the one of 85,000 euros that was imposed in 2019 on an Irish company.
In addition to the penalties for violating consumer standards, at the criminal level the apology for eating disorders has had a greater legal framework since July of these years, since as a result of the Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents, it was classified as a crime incitement to eating disorders as well as suicide or self-harm.