What Do Rob Kardashian's Revenge Porn Posts Say About Society Today?
The Debrief: This is not just a celebrity spat, nor is it reality television. It’s the behaviour of a person with a huge public platform that holds a mirror up to the problematic rise of revenge porn and digital harassment.
Rob Kardashian’s Instagram page is currently suspended because he posted what many are describing as ‘explicit images’ of his ex-partner and mother of his daughter, Blac Chyna. Let’s make no bones about it, what Kardashian posted was revenge porn. This is illegal in the UK as well as in the state of California where it is punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 dollar fine.
Among the material posted by Kardashian were images and videos, including an image of a woman’s genitals and a video which appeared to have been filmed by Chyna herself. This material was accompanied by text rants which levelled claims of cheating and drug abuse at Blac Chyna.
After his Instagram, had been suspended, Kardashian didn’t stop. No, he took to Twitter where he continued to reveal details of the extent of the animosity between him and his former partner.
The circumstances of any event involving a Kardashian may be completely unique and almost completely exceptional, who else on the planet could possibly share their experiences of fame? But, sadly, Rob Kardashian’s revenge porn posting and general behaviour on social media following a break up is far from unusual and speaks to a much wider issue of contemporary online life. The ubiquity of multiple social media platforms and the ease with which we can make images using mobile technology means that material which would once not have been recorded and likely remained private even if it was, can now easily be uploaded and shared on the Internet within seconds. Intimate and private material can be made public with the light touch of a button.
Digital harassment and abuse are evolving with every technological advance. What’s particularly worrying is that people don’t seem to be able to distinguish between right and wrong when it comes to revenge porn. A study entitled The Malevolent Side of Revenge Porn Policy Proclivity: Dark Personality Traits and Sexist Ideology, conducted earlier this year by psychologists at the University of Kent found that a majority of people would endorse the use of revenge porn. While 29% of participants in the study said that they would be likely to engage in revenge porn activities, 99% of participants expressed approval or did not feel remorse for revenge porn being posted online when presented with the scenario of a partner walking out on them. The researchers also found that 87% of people interviewed as part of the study expressed excitement or amusement at revenge porn material.
Dr Afrodati Pina, from the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, and her team found, for the first time, that there is a link between having certain, specific psychological characteristics and a tendency towards revenge porn. They found ‘a positive correlation between a greater propensity to engage in revenge porn and higher levels of the ‘Dark Triad’ of psychological characteristics’ which are psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism and involve traits such as impulsivity and a lack of empathy. The majority of participants, who didn’t exhibit these characteristics, were ‘unlikely to commit an act of revenge porn themselves’ but, the researchers said, there was ‘an acceptance’ among the majority of such behaviour which they knew was ‘frequently occurring online’.
Since revenge porn was made illegal in the UK back in 2015, there have been prosecutions. Figures from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2016, one year after the revenge porn law came into force, showed that more than 200 people had been prosecuted.
Rob Kardashian’s social media suspension and post break up online behaviour pose questions about how we, as a society, respond to this sort of online behaviour regardless of whether it’s a celebrity posting or not. Surely what the University of Kent’s report tells us is that the role of online bystanders has serious implications in not only facilitating and implicitly condoning revenge porn, but disseminating the material itself.
This is not just a celebrity spat, this is not reality television. It’s the behaviour of a person with a huge public platform that holds a mirror up to the rise of revenge porn and digital harassment. We should all take a long hard look and seriously consider how we respond before favouriting, retweeting, screenshoting or posting tongue in cheek memes that make light of Kardashian’s behaviour. When all’s said, and done, Kardashian or not, this is a story about a man posting private pictures of a woman without her consent with the explicit intent of shaming and humiliating her in public.
According to the most recent stats obtained by The Debrief, the Revenge Porn Helpline dealt with 903 cases between 1 June 2016 to 30 May this year alone and worked with a total of 1,714 people since the helpline started – 72% of these being female – as well as 28 cases of sextortion. So there's no question that we should ask ourselves how we, as a society, ought to be responding to revenge porn.
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