Flirt. Date. Break Up. Stalk. Digital Harassment on Social Media 

Breakups are hard enough without the additional stress of having your ex stalk you to the point of harassment on social media. But platforms like Facebook make it easy to not just stalk but also engage in an angry, hurtful campaign of harassment aimed at exacting revenge on your ex. If you’re a victim of revenge porn, here’s some perspective on the matter that may give you solace.

Social Media: Cool for Dating, Bad for Breakups

The influence of social media on dating has been well-documented. From the instant gratification of Tinder swiping to the extensive algorithm-driven matchmaking that takes place on platforms like match.com or apps like POF (Plenty of Fish), it opens up options that would have been unthinkable back in the day.

But only now are people waking up to the flip side of social media’s influence on our relationships: the breakup. All the ease and swiftness that improved dating is now turned inside out and works to seriously downgrade the experience of splitting up. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, social media turns the lucid dream of easy partner-finding into the brittle nightmare that digital divorce has become.

A Side Note on Digital Harassment by Text

And texting your ex? Harassment by text? Forget it – this is an even more invasive, pervasive, and in some ways hurtful way to harass your ex. It’s the immediacy of the text that makes it such a vicious form of digital harassment.

It’s typically a mother who’s harassed by her loser ex, with whom she’s had a child — although sometimes it’s the other way around and it’s the mom sending texts at all hours of the night. In these cases, it’s often the harasser feeling lonely and distraught — again, unable to process the separation, move on, and put their life together and taking it out on their ex, perhaps even romanticizing their past together.

The worst part is, the law doesn’t cover harassment by text of this nature. The pretext is the child that they have in common, so it can be presumed that the harasser is texting the harassed not to harass but to discuss the child’s well-being in some form or another.

The law does, however, cover instances when the harassment takes place over social media platforms.

How to Conduct Your Breakup Like a Psychotic Loser

It’s pretty normal to check your ex’s Facebook/Instagram profile after a breakup… up to a certain point. But it’s a sure-fire way to never get over that person, say psychologists. If you’re an online stalker of your ex, the crucial question you should ask yourself is this: “Am I secretly hoping to get back together?”

And beyond that,  “Do I still harbour feelings for this person? Am I afraid that I’ll never find success in a relationship again?”

Stalking and harassing your ex on social media delays emotional recovery and stops personal growth, blocking out all the important lessons you could be learning from a breakup. Not only that, but a study performed in England suggests that people who engage in this sort of behaviour are probably longing for their ex-partner.

Not to mention that digital harassment is against the law.

What Does the Law Say?

Revenge porn cases are on the rise and although it’s been tough to get convictions, that will change in time. The problem is, criminal harassment cases have always been centred on physical stalking, not the online variety. Therefore, in some parts of the world,  judges are bound by the old laws written in language that doesn’t cover digital harassment.

In case you’re comfortably encased in a great relationship and haven’t been privy to what it’s like to be harassed by your ex, here’s what today’s angry divorcées are inflicting on their ex-lovers. Revenge porn is one of the nastiest techniques used by some of the most vindictively enraged people out there. They reveal sexually explicit information or post sexual photos and videos of their ex on social media in order to cause distress or embarrassment.

The legal point is: it also causes harm, which is why Canada has an expanding set of revenge porn laws.

Revenge Porn Laws vs Journalistic Freedom

Although they’re contested and controversial and, some say, badly written, Canada’s revenge porn laws do exist, which is more than you can say for some states in the USA and other countries around the world.

Much of the controversy about these laws revolves around the matter of journalistic freedom. Wording like “publication of embarrassing private facts” to describe revenge porn is rather broad and could be applied to the protection of images and videos that aren’t sexual at all.

For example, say a blogger publishes an article on the heroin epidemic and along with it, a picture of a politician in his younger days shooting up. That’s private and embarrassing but not sexual but that politician could sue under revenge porn laws with vague language like that cited above.

Danielle Citron, at the University of Maryland in the US, has been pushing for new and better laws there that protect the subjects of explicit photos. What does that look like?

How Revenge Porn Laws Should be Written

Another problem is that some courts are using laws that were written twenty years ago. They may cover digital harassment but because the language used to define “digital harassment” is outdated, the laws can’t reach today’s victims. Using language like “email” to define “digital” is limiting and cases have been thrown out because they took place on social media.

What’s needed is to write laws that use technologically neutral language. That way, as the digital landscape evolves to include formats and platforms we’ve not even dreamed of yet, the laws will still be relevant.

Another way to help victims is to consider adding ‘sex’ to the definition of hate crimes. That would allow prosecutors the ability to use existing hate crime laws to prosecute revenge porn cases.

Some are looking at trying to prevent revenge porn in the first place — Facebook is working on that angle but the trust factor is understandably low with them.

Take a Look at Facebook’s ‘Solution’

Despite what Mark Zuckerberg says at any point in time, he has always made it clear, by his company’s actions, that he is all about prioritizing growth over privacy.

So it has to be a joke that he is calling for people to submit their nude photos to Facebook in order to combat revenge porn. Here’s their plan:

  1. Send Facebook all your sexually explicit photos.
  2. Hope they don’t get hacked or sell your data to a third party.
  3. Wait for them to launch a human-powered team to scrutinize all your nude photos. because the technology isn’t there yet to use an automated process.
  4. Wait for the team to assign each photo a unique digital hash and record it somewhere.
  5. Hope that when your ex posts that same photo to the world, Facebook identifies it correctly as a match with what you submitted and blocks it.
  6. Hope that nobody hacks that registry of encrypted photos of you taken during a Jack Daniels-fueled night of revelry with your ex in Barbados ten years ago.

Given Facebook’s miserable reputation on privacy, is this a real solution?

Whether you think prevention is the remedy or prosecution will do the trick, revenge porn is real and it’s everywhere. And back to the psychology of the whole business: if your ex can’t seem to move on and is bent on revenge, there is legal recourse. In a perfect storm of understanding and forgiveness, you’d pity them and hope they find the help they need. In an even more perfect storm, you have access to legal advice (or you’re an attorney yourself) and you know you always have that avenue at your easy disposal should things ever come to that.

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