Tasmania's lagging digital literacy fuels image-based abuse: TasICT

The average young Tasmanian is online at least five times a day.

While such increased connectivity is an overall positive, some stakeholders say it brings with it certain risks.

Will Kestin, the chief executive of TasICT, the state’s peak industry body for the information and communications technology sector, said very real security and safety issues presented themselves in the online lives of young Tasmanians.

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Mr Kestin said Tasmania’s lack of digital literacy made the negative effects of image-based abuse, or ‘revenge porn’, more pronounced here.

Tasmania is the least digitally literate state in Australia.

“I think digital literacy goes hand in hand with … an understanding of the way that image-based abuse works,” he said.

“When you’ve got a lower digital literacy, people are more easily duped into things that they don’t realise could potentially end up [as] a risk as far as any kind of internet abuse is concerned.

“I do think that the more we understand the way that the internet works, the more we can get people to understand how important cyber security is and how they can protect themselves.”

Mr Kestin asserted that a greater investment in improving Tasmania’s digital literacy was needed in order to address the spread of image-based abuse in this state.

When you’ve got a lower digital literacy, people are more easily duped into things that they don’t realise could potentially end up [as] a risk as far as any kind of internet abuse is concerned.

Will Kestin, TasICT chief executive

Image-based abuse emerged as mobile phones became more and more accessible the world over.

It involves people using intimate images they obtain of someone to abuse, exploit or extort that person.

Often, such images are trafficked through the so-called dark web, which makes up 90 per cent of the internet but is largely inaccessible without the right software.

But that’s not to say that image-based abuse only proliferates in the seedy underbelly of the internet.

There are community-created Facebook groups that serve as platforms for people to non-consensually share intimate images of people.

This is done for the amusement of a group’s members, to shame the person depicted or to exact a kind of revenge on ex-lovers.

TasICT chief executive Will Kestin

TasICT chief executive Will Kestin

Mr Kestin said social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had a “responsibility” to combat the proliferation of image-based abuse.

But he said he believed those companies were regularly devising new ways of addressing the problem.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company - which also owns Instagram - was “committed to providing a service where people feel safe”.

“There is no place on our platforms for content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation, and we take swift action to remove it when we’re made aware of it,” the spokesperson said.

“When this content, often referred to as ‘revenge porn’, is reported to us, we can now prevent it from being shared on Facebook, Messenger, Groups and Instagram.”

The technology the spokesperson refers to is image-matching software which allows Facebook to prevent non-consensual intimate images from being re-shared once they have been reported.

Meanwhile, a Twitter spokesperson said non-consensually shared intimate images were in violation of the platform’s rules and any account that was found to be engaging in the distribution of such content would be permanently suspended.

The spokesperson said Twitter had guidelines to assist law enforcement agencies in requesting information pertaining to accounts that uploaded illegal content.

“As long as there are social media platforms, there will be bad actors seeking to hurt other people on them, just as they do in real life,” the spokesperson said.

“Our highest priority at Twitter is protecting the safety and security of our users.”

Not everyone believes we should discourage people from sharing intimate images with their loved ones.

As long as there are social media platforms, there will be bad actors seeking to hurt other people on them, just as they do in real life.

Twitter spokesperson

Alina Thomas is the chief executive of family violence support group Support, Help, Empowerment.

Ms Thomas is of the mind that we need to take a harm reduction approach to ‘sexting’, rather than promoting abstinence.

“We live in a society that still carries a lot of hang-ups about sex,” she said.

“This impacts on people, when sexuality is both highly prized and commodified but also highly shamed.

“When people are exploring or expressing their sexuality in a consensual way that doesn’t harm others, it should not be stigmatised, because as soon as it’s stigmatised and something goes wrong, that’s when people will be more reluctant to get help.”

While she acknowledged that once an image was out there the subject had to relinquish control over it, Ms Thomas did have a suggestion for people who wanted to engage in safe sexting.

She said not including your face in an intimate image was one of the more obvious ways of de-identifying yourself.

“There’s a few different things you can do so that it’s not necessarily, ‘Here’s a picture of my full face and my full nudity with my name and my phone number above it and I’m sending that to you’,” she said.

“Even if you were doing it with somebody you know.”

Ms Thomas said she had to draw a line when it came to vulnerable people who were unable to give consent or understand the implications of what they were doing.

“The younger the person gets, the less agency they have and the less able they are to take informed risks,” she said.

‘Blame and Shame’ is a five-part series from Fairfax Media, seeking to shed light on image-based abuse in Tasmania. Look out for part four on Thursday.