There are very few terms I despise more than sexting, mostly because it’s a strictly media-invented term that lets news anchors and writers use the word sex in tech articles, and partially because it’s one of those horrid and needless amalgamations of buzzwords, like Bloggingheads’ truly monstrous moniker for their debates: diavlogs. There’s so much Web 2.0 jargon in that thing, even Michael Arrington would retch. But we digress because this isn’t going to be a rant about what attempts at playing techie drive yours truly howling up a wall, but the real consequences of having technology that’s way ahead of our laws and what they were intended to police as it relates to sending salacious texts and graphic photos via the web and mobile phones. While new electronics and old habits create plenty of potential for abuse, one wonders whether we really need new laws to govern what we do with our phones and cams, or whether our time is better spent educating those at risk.
You might be aware that states are trying to crack down on digital sexuality when it comes to minors, and going as far as charging underage girls sending semi-nude photos of themselves with possession of child porn using some very creative applications of existing laws. But using laws intended to stop perverts and sex offenders can backfire when they’re used inappropriately. Just ask teachers who were threatened by a rabid district attorney with something written to punish would-be child molesters because he objected to how they would have to teach sex ed classes. Such overzealous overreach can get ugly in cases in which kids make the decision to take less than appropriate pictures of themselves and don’t think about the consequences as they send them around or post them on the web. Sharing too much online is a major problem because many of the users who do that don’t seem to realize just how exposed they are and how many total strangers might see them. While you post a lot of very honest pictures and status updates only after locking down your privacy controls, all it takes is a friend of a friend to latch on to something too honest or too embarrassing not to pass on and eventually post on a site like 4chan. And yes, feel free to shudder in fear because the hordes of 4chan armed with your personal info are nothing to take lightly.
So imagine the shock when someone who makes a bad decision and sends a graphic photo and a string of steamy texts finds them plastered across the web for anonymous crowds to praise or tear down without even the slightest regard for the person’s feelings. You’re now going to charge her with a felony for ignoring how easily privacy is violated via electronic means? Really? That’s the best way some states believe this problem should be handled? I understand when the state goes after kids selling naked photos of their classmates to seedy characters on the web; photos they solicited by flirting and coercion. But to punish kids who don’t know not to send those sorts of pictures is just plain ridiculous, as is setting up laws that would punish someone under the age of majority for sending something a court could fight slightly titillating. Instead, we need to be educating teens that while their blunt, brutally honest, and highly revealing profiles may bring in a lot of views and a lot of fans, filling their need for affection and appreciation during those awkward adolescent years when they really need it, they could also be hijacked by lunatics, perverts, and bullies. That’s something no punitive law could ever teach since it would only come into play after the fact rather than before, when we need it most.