Photo Sharing

I’m not sure anything typifies the fundamental struggle of online content more than photo sharing. Family reunion photos are priceless, and social media sites have done incredible things to facilitate the sharing of content with friends and loved ones. Of course, the most prolific and pervasive method for sharing pornography is also through images. The same technology that allows you to see new photos of your grandchild also can deliver to you all manner of illicit content. It’s important to understand how to maximize that benefit while minimizing the negatives.

The first thing to realize is that each social networking site sets it own community standards, and these can vary wildly. Even where community standards exist that forbid “adult” content, policing individual behavior can be difficult simply due to the scale at which content gets added by users.

A host of web services such as Flickr and Snapfish have emerged to support the storage, organization, and sharing of digital photos, while general social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace include photo sharing as a key functionality. For example, users upload in excess of 2.5 billion photos to Facebook each month.11


On sites like Facebook, you have a modicum of protection since you’re typically looking at content from people that you’ve accepted as friends. Of course, content posted by someone on their public page is available for viewing by anyone accessing the site. So while there’s a level of protection there, it’s not foolproof.

A potentially non-obvious concern is that your own private photos may be viewed by people you’d rather not have viewing them. For example, if you do everything you can to make your profile (and those of your children) private, your brother at the family reunion may potentially take pictures of everyone, load them on his own public profile, and then tag them for the world to see. That may not be a problem to you, but consider whether you want a photograph of your 10-year-old daughter, complete with name and other identifying information, available for anyone on the Internet to access. For predators and bullies, this type of information is very facilitative.

Some sites are dedicated to photo sharing and have built their user experience around this fundamental service. The most popular sites today include Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, Instagram, and ImageShack. These sites include some general-purpose social networking functions. Since these sites exclusively feature photography, it’s no shock that a certain amount of pornographic content shows up on these sites. Check the policies of the sites before becoming a regular producer or consumer of their content.

My advice is to tread very lightly when venturing into websites dedicated to photography. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go there. I am saying that you should be cautious about how you go there and what you do there. It’s very similar to the challenge of browsing a brick and mortar bookstore. You know there’s inappropriate content on the shelves, but you don’t have to linger in front of the magazine rack. If you do, you shouldn’t be shocked by what you see.

11 Michael A. Stefanone, “Contingencies of Self-worth and Social-networking-site Behavior,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14 (2011).

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