Register at Your Own Risk

Before the Internet became the Information Superhighway or the ultimate playground for predator’s or Pandora’s Box and the root of all evil, parents were worried with a little gadget called the telegraph. That’s dinosaur technology for us now but guardians were worried about the creeper at the other end of the wire just as much as they are now with the person behind the profile. Sure there have been many cases of children who have been prey for sick-minded adults but to say that the Internet is a place where children are unsafe and vulnerable is an exaggeration. What’s more, sexting can’t fit under the same umbrella if it’s between people who are romantically involved. Of course we wish that teenagers had better judgment and weren’t so naïve about who they show their nude bodies to; but the danger of being exposed though social media can’t be put in the same danger zone as meeting nefarious strangers. In many cases sexting can be irresponsible but putting you at risk for pregnancy… and rape? That’s a slippery slope.

As shown in Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study, the number of youth involved in the exchange, both consensual and not, of sexual content through social media, is not as alarming as we might have thought. In fact, only 1% of the youth surveyed had been involved in an exchange that potentially violated child pornography laws within the past year (Mitchell et al, 6).

Aside from parents and educators worried about their exhibitionist children, religious leaders are addressing the trend and making it part of their indoctrination – good church going kids don’t sext. In two article posted about the topic: Sexting: Youth Pastors Deal with New Challenges; and Growing Sexting Trend and How to Respond posted on Effective Youth Ministry’s website, only extreme cases are showcased. In the first article the story of a young man who was convicted on charges of child pornography is told – he was eventually placed on the list of sexual offenders. What isn’t emphasized, though, is that the woman who he shared photos of was his girlfriend,17 at the time of the incident. In the second article, faulty data is used to convince readers that sexting is at epidemic levels – it includes people ages 13-26 in its survey sample. A person over eighteen no longer falls under child pornography restrictions – parents have no business monitoring a 26 year old’s sexual behavior.

It’s important to make the distinction of age and relationships because they are important players behind sexting. More importantly, these players are overlooked when measuring the number of teenagers engaging in sexting and the consequences displayed don’t necessarily always follow. They’re poisoning the well – posing a false dilemma, “register at your own risk”.

Church going or non-church going, teenagers are at their hormonal peek, fitting into their new and developing bodies. Who knows if before sexting, email, and Facebook, these kids weren’t exposing themselves in person-to-person contact, or weren’t sending each other sexually explicit messages elsewhere. These mediums have simply made it easier to store and replicate the messages.

Furthermore, the dangers in sexting aren’t in encountering strangers and sexual predators. None of the survey results or examples in the article demonstrate that a child has been molested or sexually assaulted as a result of sexting. That’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous – it’s just a different kind of dangerous. It can harm social relationships, your reputation and future but it won’t put a female at a higher risk of getting pregnant, much less by a stranger. Of course, it’s important to mention that most cases of rape occur between people that know each other. Still, there is no evidence to back the conclusion that sexting leads children to unwanted sexual contact with strangers.

As with most that is mysterious and unknown, sexting is a new practice, and older generations who are not familiar with it are, to no surprise, overly-concerned. It’s an issue but it’s not going to destroy the lives of our youth. It may well be a tool for sexual expression, and a vent safer than frequent sexual encounters. Such content when produced my females may well work as a liberator from gender norms and can be in some ways considered a feminist movement, as discussed by Amy Adele Hasinoff. Not to say that it should be considered media production, though – that’s a leap that implies mass production, which I’m not willing to take.

LiKe ZoMg Ur So HoTtTtT!!! <3 <3

Before diving off the intellectual deep-end, it is important to secure an adequate flotation device to prevent yourself from sinking.

For me, this has always been George Michael’s “Faith.” So, spin this, while you skim over some of my thoughts on the use of media in American youth:

____________

George Michael – Faith


____________

As much as I would love for this video to be an example of youth media discourse, it is painfully irrelevant. I just like to ‘set the mood,’ if you will.

I recently found an article that, although briefly, seemed to feature a few fully-grown adults actually praising youth’s involvement in social media, (I KNOW, SHOCKING). It seems like the majority of the headlines we read (because let’s face it, that’s all we read), try to put social media in the same categories as drug use and unprotected sex with multiple partners. It only takes one child-abduction or one case of sexual harassment spawned from the internet to have pundits and talking heads up in arms about children online and the degenerating effect the web will certainly have on all of us. To that I say: puh-lease! Is this a joke? I mean, I get it. We should certainly be wary of a technology that can bring strangers into our homes (digitally, that is) and near our children. Cool. I get that. But by some divine cruelty the media has taken it upon themselves to instill our family values…with their values. I’m not even sure if it happens anymore, but my dad used to tell me how the evening news would always start its broadcast with, “It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your children are?” And while I fully appreciate the sentiment behind that question, it feels a little backhanded, maybe even fear-mongering, to ask viewers where their children are and then start a local news program filled with rapes, murders and child abductions. Have you watched your local news in the last year? It is ALL, I repeat, ALL stories of crime and tragedy. There is nothing positive about local news programs. So, why is this relevant? Because I firmly believe that the media control culture. Maybe not all too consciously, but through the way they frame issues, prioritize stories, and even more simply, the way they interact with each other serves as a strange model of “normal” for the rest of us the fall in line with. I would argue that the frenzy of media and information flowing at us 24/7 creates a climate where people are unable to even learn the truth about a topic at times. What I suppose I am saying is that rather than critiquing a specific piece of discourse, I would sooner critique the idea of discourse itself. Which…really…serves no purpose, so allow me to bite off a small piece and chew on it for a while:

The aforementioned article is from a site called EducationViews.org, a site operated by former textbook publishers, department of education employees, and general wizards of pedagogy. Assuming it was a pretty reputable site, I sniffed around until I found an article that seemed to stand out amongst others regarding social media:

“According to a new World Vision 30 Hour Famine study, conducted online in January by Harris Interactive, more than half of teens (55 percent) say social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have made them more aware of the needs of others.”

It was pleasantly surprising to find opinions like that floating around amongst these academics. The article’s study was done by the group who sponsors and organizes 30 Hour Famine, a charity organization designed to raise money/awareness of global hunger problems by having students pledge to go 30 hours without food and try and empathize with the plight of the world. So, admittedly, there is room for some bias here. I mean, if this study was taken of kids who were already volunteering for a charity, it may suffice to say that they are not the kinds of people who would allow something ‘bad’ to happen through their use of social media. But regardless, there is a small light now in the dark tunnel of social media’s reputation. These students were able to use social media as a social tool (huh, imagine that) and seemed to supplement their personal relationships with what they were able to learn from other students from a different proximity. If nothing else, this is what social media was designed for (you know, aside from making stacks of money). Social media is a gift for people to engage and interact in ways never possible before. I think it is a shame that the negative aspects or even the potential for negative aspects, inherent in any new technology, seemed to have risen to the surface and overshadowed all the good that came come from it.

The thing about social media is…”media” is a plural noun, which means when we say “social media” we are referencing all types of media that can be social. By extension, I would say that texting is a very specific type of social media, and sexting is a very specific type of social media.

The thing about sexting is…we’ve all done it. And if you haven’t done it you’re a liar. And if you truly haven’t done it, you are certainly hoping to one day. I hope this realization hasn’t offended you. It shouldn’t. And I mean the text-based sexting, of course. I don’t think we all want to send naked images of ourselves up to space and back down again. But sex is just as natural as sleeping and eating, yet it carries this horrific stigma in America and gives people the “oogies” at times. Have you ever been watching Comedy Central with your parents, say around 10-11 o’clock and a Girls Gone Wild commercial comes on? Awkward, right? How bout those commercials now that say “vaginal mesh” like 8 times? It’s uncomfortable! But why? I’m not sure I will ever fully know that answer, but I would put a lot of the blame on the way we all get shifty-eyes when someone says anything vaguely sexual.

Boobs! Penis! *shifty eyes*

See??

I think the nature of sex and all its implications lends itself to being thrown greatly out or proportion. This may sound radical, but before Man invented age, and time, sex was something you did when you were able to, as in, once you went through puberty. It may be weird to think about (see, ‘oogies’ above) but our bodies are ready to have sex when we hit maybe 12-14? This physical readiness clashes with our cultural need to preserve sex until adulthood, or even marriage, when our natural inclinations begin much sooner. So why wouldn’t we all just be the sex-craved maniacs we all are, right? We’ve been fighting urges since the day we got them!  Sexting seems to me like a natural expression of natural desires but through a digital platform, which we know can lead to replication, and seems to persist in existence much longer than any spoken thought or idea.

So what is so horrifying here? Is it a father finding a naked picture of his teenage daughter online and going ballistic? Yes. But it’s also a drastic encroachment on personal privacy and even freedom. Hasinoff feels that, “rather than viewing adolescents’ creative use of digital media to express their sexuality as a potentially positive development, the dominant media, legal, and educational response to sexting has viewed it as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis.” UGH this is spot on. The natural reaction from a parents persepctive would be to tighten your grip on your child and shield them from the dangers of sex and all that comes with it, but how is that helping a child? Would it not be better to promote education and a respectful understanding of sex in its social context for both grade-school life and beyond? Hasinoff later says, “struggling to understand sexting, many cultural commentators assume that it is the result of an overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.” Really? Because…I think sexting would have gone on if cell phones were around in the 80’s, certainly the 70’s and you know it would have gone down in the 60’s. I’d have to side with Hasinoff here because I don’t really understand why were are the over-sexualized generation. Maybe because we are all-around more attractive than people of the past? (self-high-five). Maybe because of how nonchalant celebrities and other figures seem to be about sex? But, should we be that passive about sex? It is a major part of a person’s life, not to mention a necessary function for the continuation of our species. So why paint it as some heathenish act that only the bad kids do? A girl will know when boys start liking her. Boys know it too. That is not something we can change in the fabric of American youth. But what we can change is the way we conceptualize sex entirely.

The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: News Stories Everywhere Claim Technology is Evil, Kids are Helpless

In today’s world of ubiquitous social media, it seems like every day you hear a news story about why social networks are bad for kids in some new way. While I was researching the topic, I came across an article titled ‘Are social networking sites turning teens into substance abusers?’ which seemed like the perfect starting spot for an analysis of media overreacting about kids’ online lives. The article cites a press release from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which states that ‘Teens who use Facebook and other social networking sites on a daily basis are three times as likely to drink alcohol, twice as likely to use marijuana, and five times more likely to smoke tobacco than teens who don’t frequent the sites.’ While such statistics may sound like the standard ‘the internet is bad for your kids’ rant, this article actually did point out that rather than keep kids from the internet, perhaps something should be done by sites like Facebook to prevent teenagers from posting such pictures online. However unrealistic this may be, it is at least a different perspective than the norm. Another interesting point of differentiation from the standard discourse was that about 90 percent of parents interviewed in the survey believed that social networking had no effect on their kids drinking or drug use.

While this article does provide some interesting insight, the major issue that I find is that it directly relates social networking with drinking and drug use, completely ignoring all other factors. This type of technological determinism is criticized in Amy Adele Hasinoff’s article ‘Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online.’ In the article, Hasinoff points out a CBS news story which, in regard to teens and sexting, stated, ‘When people see these sexy pictures, they are more apt to have sexual relations which will lead to teen pregnancy .’ Again, such a point of view directly blames the technology for teenagers’ decisions and removes all agency from the teens themselves.  Just as Hasinoff provides the alternative view of sexting as a means of expression, perhaps the authors of the article that I came across should consider that in posting pictures on Facebook, these teenagers are simply expressing themselves, but that an issue worth tackling might be how and why the teens are drinking in the first place.

Another issue with how the information is presented in this article is that it mentions a broad generalization in saying that using a social networking site on a daily basis makes teens three times more likely to drink alcohol. Similar to the way in which the article is ignoring any outside context, such numbers should be looked at under a closer light, much like Kimberly Mitchell and her team do in their article  ‘Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study.’ Just as Mitchell and her team find that past studies overrepresent the amount of sexting going on due to vague definitions and flawed research methods, perhaps a more in-depth study would be more informative than such quick correlational statements.

Articles like these clearly try to provoke some sense of panic in parents of teens, much like the video we watched in class about the ‘new ways kids are hiding sexting from their parents.’ News reports like these seem to say that the only way teens can be safe is either by not being on social networking sites at all, or by having heavy parental privacy invasion supervision. Rather than present these terrifying statistics in raw form, maybe these news stories should focus on talking with your kids and teaching them to make responsible decisions both online and offline, rather than simply saying that the internet is an evil place where your kids will be completely out of your (and their own) control.

Ambiguous Portrayal of Sexting in the Media

Sexting has become one of the most controversial topics in our society with the advent of new technology and the lines of personal and private becoming more obscure by the day.  Part of the intense discourse of this topic has to do with the ambiguity of the consequences of teenagers who ‘sext’ represented in mainstream media.   Most of the time, ‘sexting’ is portrayed as something that is inappropriate, offensive, and most importantly illegal in our day and age.  There have been numerous examples in recent years of teenagers who have either been arrested and charged with child pornography charges, or have committed suicide due to the harassment stemming from the unintentional release of a naked picture.

In cinema, sexting, or variations of it, like all potentially dangerous habits, are usually tackled with the same typical teenage debauchery.  The prime example being American Pie.  Assuming you’ve all at least heard of the movie, I want to put into discourse the scene when Jim and his friends set up a webcam to watch Nadia undress unbeknownst to her.  Jim ends up going to meet her, hoping to catch her in a certain mood, without realizing he added the link to the video he was making to his entire grades contact list. What ends up happening is that the whole school watches as Jim and Nadia begin to engage in sexually explicit activity and Jim embarrasses himself.  Jim becomes mortified to learn that he broadcast it to everybody, and Nadia gets shipped back off to whatever foreign country she was originally from.  Cue the Blink-182 tracks and some sorrowful glances from Jim and the audience is *supposed* to grasp the world of humiliation Jim feels about the incident. But we don’t cause it’s a frickin movie and movies in all their glory never make really bad things seem really bad.  So his girlfriend who was studying abroad got shipped back home? No big deal; Stifler still has his mojo and prom is still going to commence. The lesson here is that sexting could probably be humiliating, IF (and ONLY if) you’re stupid enough to upload a video to all of your contact list.
However, what about real-life situations?  MTV put together a PSA of sorts trying to tackle the consequences of what could happen to teenagers who have been on both ends of the sexting spectrum, using real-life examples, in “Sexting in America: When Privates go Public” (haha nice pun MTV) (also, ironic because when I think of examples of morality and proper decorum, MTV is not what comes to mind).  The first girl, Ally, got more than she bargained for when she sent a picture to her ex-boyfriend when he texted her and wanted to go back out with her.  She said she sent him the text because she felt vulnerable after they broke up and she wanted to ensure he wouldn’t break up with her again and sent him the picture.  The second case, featured a boy who in an irrational rage at his girl-friend about a fight they got into, logged into her email and sent nude pictures of her to her contact list which included friends, parents, teachers and the girls grandparents.  The boy was arrested and added to the sex offender registry where he’ll remain until he is 43.  He isn’t enrolled in college and doesn’t have a job; the consequence here reaching far beyond humiliation, but has negatively affected every aspect of his life.
In “American Pie” and “Sexting in America: When Privates go Public” we see two alternative discourses surrounding youth and social media.  The American Pie approach is that kids will be kids, this kind of stuff happens, teenagers are curious about their bodies and sex, ladadadada.  I will note that American Pie was released in 1999, a few years before sexting became a renowned problem in the media.  “Sexting in America: When Privates go Public” chooses to outline the horrific consequences of texting pictures of yourself in compromising situations to other people.  This is definitely ambiguous; teenagers are constantly bombarded with hypersexualized media, and then conversely told by the same media that sexting is bad…Both, however, choose to focus on the notion that privacy is easier said than done, and you never know who could be distributing or receiving your (what was intended as) private pictures.
In her article, “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online” Amy Hasinoff extends the discourse of sexting beyond the typical binaries of black and white, right and wrong.  She thinks that “educators, lawyers, parents and digital media researchers could respond more fairly and effectively to sexting if they re-conceptualized consensual sexting as a type of media production” (Hasinoff).  I tend to agree with Hasinoff in the sense that sexting is more complicated and should be addressed as such.  I personally feel that the advent of sexting should be a surprise to nobody; the social construction of technology theory is that technology does not control or dictate human actions: teenagers were curious and sexual before cell phones, sexting is just the newest way to explore sexuality.
That being said, I am not saying I support sexting in the slightest, I’m merely agreeing with Hasinoff that “common interpretations of sexting often fail to distinguish between adolescents’ use of mobile media for sexual harassment and their consensual intimate sexual uses of these technologies” and that it’s probably not fair that the law fails to distinguish between the two.  It seems a little hypocritical that two 17-year olds can have consensual sex as stated by the law in most states and yet if they were found to have naked pictures of each other on their phones they would be guity of possessing child pornography.  Laws concerning sexting are a little outdated and tend to group (what I hesitate to call) ‘naive’ teenagers with more dangerous pedophiles.
This isn’t to say that sexting is “harmless” and in fact in many sensationalized cases sexting has been extremely traumatizing for many teenagers, leading to arrests, being kicked out of schools, emotional trauma, and in the most extreme cases, suicide.  However, this is not because of the inherent nature of sexting itself, which Hasinoff views as an exploration of sexuality, but rather the indiscriminate and irresponsible method of distributing images that were intended to be private.  Hasinoff says that the current attitude that all forms of sexting are “deviant criminal offenses” is overly “simplistic” and is failing to address the right issues.  By “re-orienting” sexting as an “act of sexual pleasure and self-expression” Hasinoff contends that we should view sexting as not inherently harmful, but “the malicious distribution of private images” as being the reason for concern.
While I am repusled by the idea that somebody would forward a naked picture to everybody in their contact list, it’s not so much because of the content but because of the blatant disregard for others’ privacy and well-being.  If teenagers want to consensually sext each other than it’s their business and I don’t want to know about it. While sexting isn’t what I choose to spend my time doing, I recognize that it’s a way for teenagers to express themselves in a potentially empowering way (Hasinoff) and as long as things are kept private and between two consenting individuals, shouldn’t be blindly punished by the law.

Sexting has become part of the adolescence list. Besides drugs, alcohol, sex, and many others, sexting is now a concern for youths. Due to cell phone technologies growing exponentially, the device enables teens, and even younger, an easy way to share images. In class we have discussed the negative effects of sexting and the proper legal actions that should be used.

According to a poll, conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, many adults believe that the solution should be noncriminal. 81 percent of the people polled thought that an educational program would be most beneficial. Our class also came to a consensus that the parents should play a major role, but the schools should as well in educating kids and teens. 75 percent believe in community service, 44 percent believe in fines, and less than 20 percent believe that it should be treated as a sex crime.

In class we have discussed about youth’s violation of self-expression; that sexting is another way of showing who you are.  In “Sexting as Media Production: re-thinking social media,” Amy Hasinoff discusses the necessity for lawmakers and parents to understand that sexting can also be seen as a media production. She write s that sexting is being misrepresented by the media. I don’t believe there is any appropriate young age for any teen to share images of themselves that are naked or even scantily clad. Like drinking it should be a law that you cannot do so unless you are over 21 years. Although, it may provoke students to do otherwise, many recent news articles have come to an agreement that sexting only happens among a small number of kids anyways.

Someone in class also brought up the point that sexting is usually girls instead of boys and that there is an unfair disadvantage to girls. I strongly agree with this point because sexting reinforces gender stereotypes. Sexting can be academically studied and approached as: why do young girls need to subject themselves to provocative images in order to prove to others that they are beautiful or popular, etc? It almost makes girls think that sexting is what they have to do, not that it is their choice. Young girls interpret sexting as a role, that this is what older women (like celebrities) do to be defined as beautiful. The boys that instigate sexting also play into gender stereotypes because it is the number of images that you can get from a variety of girls to show how manly you are. The guy is then in control and he has the power, because he has the ownership of images that could be leaked to the public. Hasinoff’s addresses these issues in a positive way by saying that young girls are making these choices in “complex social and media contexts they do not control.” She goes on by saying that it is ok for girls’ sexual media practices to be leverage against mass media. I cannot agree with Hasinoff that using sexually charged images of young girls will help mediate the representations of youth and femininity in the media, as well as society.  Publicizing and objectifying a young woman’s body is not a solution to sexting or feminine stereotypes.

The technologies we discussed in class, like EyeGuardian, do help parents curb their kids’ behavior but ruins the trust relationship. Although the law seems to be too cruel for young children, I think it is important to categorize it as a sex crime. Although they should not be treated as sexual criminals, they should be aware that their actions basically make them one. Another issue to address is defining what constitutes as sexting and what does not. There needs to be an analysis and categorization of the types of images, so children and teens know what is deemed inappropriate. It may be seen as a violation of privacy but cellphone and internet usage is not contained to just their social sphere and can be easily accessed by anyone.

Sex[t] Ed.

Cell phone distribution is ever-increasing, we are living in an increasingly sexual consumer culture, and sexting has inevitably found its way onto most of our radars in some way.  Is it an issue?  I don’t know—perhaps we should ask Anthony Weiner.  Seriously though, whether we are partaking, contemplating a moral crusade against it, or feasting on it as our local news scandal fix, it is abundantly clear that sexting is a tremendously prevalent phenomenon in today’s society.  The larger issue, however (aside from Anthony Weiner and fellow pervs in the public eye), is that sexting has spread ominously into the realm of underage youth.  Stemming from being angry irrational drama queens in an incredibly vulnerable part of their lives, witnessing immense peer pressure, and myriad other reasons, teenage girls in particular are dangerously undertaking sexting.  This is certainly not all teenage girls, nor is it even a significant percentage.  In fact, according to Kimberly Mitchell’s study, only 9.6% of teenagers had sent or received nude pictures to/of peers.  Of those, only 2.5% actually appeared in the pictures.  So why is this such a massive and incredibly publicized issue?  Two words: child pornography.

Child pornography is, unquestionably an issue.  People (parents especially) intensely fear the nightmare audience—52 year-old predators—getting their creepy paws on naked pictures of their babies.  That is very rarely the case, but it is undeniably cause for concern.  It is better for those pictures simply not to exist just for the mere risk of that occurring.  But if we have such profound concern for the children who could be potentially victimized by such creepers, then why are our laws regarding sexting so unbelievably archaic and off-putting?  Specifically, as it stands now, a teenage girl who takes nude pictures of herself and distributes them is typically charged with a felony.  The ones whom the government sought to protect then become the very ones they victimize and destroy.  A 48-year old man stumbling across a nudie pic of a 14-year old is devastating, but so is that same 14-year old never being able to have a career or a normal life as a result of her troubling criminal record.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  One might then say, “Well, then why don’t those teens just not do it?”  That’s as good of a solution as exclusively promoting abstinence as birth control.  Sexual deviance is unfortunately a fact of youth culture.  Particularly so in the sex- and pressure-filled climate they live in today.  So, it is patently clear that we should take extra precautions to ensure that it doesn’t happen and give kids reason and encouragement not to partake.  For those who unfortunately do, however, there needs to be some kind of alternative.

Mitchell’s conclusion in her study stated, “subjecting youth to severe penalties for activities that would be legal for an 18 year old as long as no exploitation was involved is increasingly being recognized as draconian” (7).  Clearly, this is true, as more and more states are jumping onboard to find reasonable alternatives.  An NBC article from March 20th examines the new law in New Jersey around sexting and minors, which will be enacted in the next two weeks.  Under this law, “teenagers will be provided an educational program rather than criminal punishment for a first time offense.”  The article explains the benefits of this reform, quoting several entities, and drawing sexting back to the larger concept of bullying and abuse via technology.  I obviously agree with the reform of the law.  For the first time, the law will actually be true to its word on “protecting” young people.  And I think that education is indeed the best way of informing and reforming people (in spite of that ridiculously cliché MTV commercial—compelling stuff!).  That said, this article is also incredibly biased and flawed.

There is a side of sexting that never really makes it into the news.  This would be the Hasinoff-esque perspective that re-envisions sexting as a type of media production, and moreover as a kind of female empowerment.  The NBC article is quick to make a tie between cyberbullying and sexting.  In fact, this conclusion comprises about half of the entirety of the article.  In doing so, it completely discounts a) the fact that it is not always bullying—sometimes teen girls know exactly what they are doing and can/should take responsibility for it—and b) there can technically be a positive side of sexting, depending on how we look at it.  Amy Adele Hasinoff, in her “Sexting as Media Production” article, identifies the ways in which sexting can be a form of sexual freedom for teen girls.  I’m not saying I completely agree or disagree with it, but I do find it fascinating that this argument is almost completely ignored in the public eye.  A news search of sexting will provide articles on subjects largely having to do with victimizations and horror stories of youth, but also how sexting is destroying face-to-face intimacy, etc.  Why are we so quick to demonize sexting altogether, when such a small—albeit terrible—percentage of these cases are very seriously criminal?  Education, whether before or after sexting incidents, is a great start for informing youth, I believe.  For the rest of us, I really don’t know.  People are just so weird.

Boys will be Boys and Girls Will Be 20 Year Old Men, or a Prime Example of What Society Fears About Sexting

In her discussion of the sexting phenomenon, Amy Hasinoff, makes excellent points in regards to how the media views sexting, such as there seeming to be a zero tolerance policy with sexting; it’s wrong even if its between consenting teens.   Some of the laws Hasinoff points out are plain ridiculous, like the one about how consensual sex between 17 year olds is perfectly legal, yet any filming or photographing of said sex immediately becomes illegal and child porn.

Watching news pieces on sexting shows how disconnected so much of society is in regards to sexting; the laws especially highlight this.  In one story:

“Under a Nevada law passed by the last Legislature, if a child sends a text of a sexual nature, such as graphic photos or explicit language, he or she can be charged with a juvenile status offense”

The articles and stories always treat the sexting as if it’s a huge deal and a negative.  Hasinoff makes an excellent point where she points out:

“Rather than viewing adolescents’ creative use of digital media to express their sexuality as a potentially positive development, the dominant media, legal, and educational response to sexting has viewed it as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis. Struggling to understand sexting, many cultural commentators assume that it is the result of an overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.”

Hasinoff points out that there are two “dominant anxieties” of the mainstream when it comes to sexting; one is who the girls are talking to, and the other is how the girls are communicating.  One thing I kept noticing while reading Hasinoff’s discussion on sexting is that she generally makes the victims female; the girls are the victims and boys are the shadowy, mysterious, and horny youth.  I kept thinking while reading, “well couldn’t a male be the victim, too?”.  I thought back to the anti-sexting PSA we watched in class, and how the males were laughing as they stared at naked pictures of the female victim; I personally have witnessed the same situation with the gender roles reversed, albeit minus the fist bumps and raucous laughter.  On more than one occasion, a girl friend of mine has been hanging out in a group and on her own volition, shared pictures she has received from various men with us.

But obviously, men could be the victims, too.  And they have.  In Seattle recently, a twenty year old man, Pedro Navarro, pretended to be a young girl in order to solicit naked photos from boys around the ages of thirteen and fourteen.  Navarro was friended on Facebook by a young boy looking to increase his friend numbers (something like this is probably why EyeGuardian exists; you can hear the mothers across the country taking their sons’ computers away).  Navarro then claimed that he had a younger sister who might be interested in talking to the young boy.  Cue the dummy profile, “Samantha”.  The situation quickly turned:

“Samantha became mean and threatened that her dad was in the FBI and that ‘she’ was going to tell him that (the boy) had threatened her. Police say when the boy agreed to finally send a sexually explicit photo, “Samantha” allegedly said it was no longer good enough and suggested the boy allow her brother, referring to Navarro, to perform a sexual act on him.”

Hasinoff discusses incidents like this; anonymity of the internet allows people to present a self that is simply not true.  Navarro was not a young girl like his profile claimed. He was trying to garner photos, and eventually, sexual encounters from young boys.  It is incidents like these that spur panic from parents and lawmakers everywhere and it is incidents like these that make programs like EyeGuardian viable in today’s tech heavy world.

Hasinoff goes on to write that safety seminars were given to girls about online behavior and how to avoid an online predator in the early 00’s.  But perhaps said seminars should have been given to boys, too.  Someone in aforementioned young boy’s life obviously failed to mention to him that friending older strangers might yield not-so-great results.  You can argue that Navarro shouldn’t have been soliciting content from a young boy to begin with, obviously, but you cannot discount the fact that boy sought Navarro out first because no one probably taught him that internet strangers could be dangerous.

It is obvious from the various stories about sexting in schools that a serious re-evaluation of laws and practices is necessary.  Teens who want to consensually “sext” with another teen should be able to and should not be treated as criminals.  It is, like Hasinoff says, an expression of sexuality in the digital age.  But of course, vigilance is key.  Teens need to be taught not to seek out strangers on the internet and be informed of stories like the Navarro situation.  By blanketing sexting, regardless of who is doing it, as unlawful, you add yet another illegal thing that teens may want to do solely for the fact that it’s taboo. In reality, they need to be aware that pressing that send button is sometimes okay, and sometimes not.

-Simon Higgins

Your kid won’t Let you Go Through her phone? Lock her in a dungeon!

                In my search for an article relating to this week’s topic of youth social media use, I stumbled across this website that I think really speaks to the way parents think of their children: keepyourchildoutofjail.com. Yes, keepyourchildoutofjail.com.  This website contains advice for parents on aspects of (obviously) every teenager’s life including what to do when your teen joins a gang and starts abusing over the counter drugs.  The newest topic that this website has been addressing is the very issue of sexting.  I suppose sexting is becoming somewhat prevalent in high schools around the country, and the blame is being placed almost entirely on teenage girls.

                In her article, “Do Teenage Girls Drive the Sexting Culture,”  Keep Your Child Out Of Jail contributor, Chrisena Coleman displays a belief that sexting is a problem that stems from the promiscuity of young girls.  Throughout this article, there are numerous interviews with girls of the age in question, an interview with a gentleman who gets these pornographic images from girls in his school, and an interview with a mom and parenting expert.  These interviews are used to frame Coleman’s argument that young girls are the cause of this problem; that they victimize themselves and are helping the sexting epidemic spread.  Denene Millner, founder of MyBrownBaby.com,indicates that parents need to help their daughters realize that this kind of promiscuity is not okay.  That is why she is already talking to her eight and eleven-year-old daughters about it.  Ross Porter, Government and Justice Principal for Bronx School of Law and mother to a tween, speaks along similar lines as Millner.  She believes that teens and tweens are not capable of making their own decisions, so parents need to guide them.  She even goes as far as to say that if your daughter will not give up her cell phone and Facebook password, you should “pull the plug on everything.”

                These women do not give teen girls enough credit.  Perhaps it is not socially acceptable for a 16-year-old girl to be taking risqué pictures of herself at all, but who is to say when she is ready to share herself sexually with her boyfriend?  It is perfectly fine if adults want to send explicit photos of themselves to their significant others because they are seen as mature individuals capable of making good decisions, and teens are too hormonal for things like that.  Teenagers mature at all different rates, and as Amy Hasinoff points out in her article, “Sexting as Media Production: Rethinking Dominant Ideas about Teen Girls and Sexuality Online,” perhaps the girls are not the only ones at fault.  In fact, Hasinoff goes as far as to say that taking away the right to do what one wishes with her sexuality can take away a girl’s sense of voice in a relationship.  Nobody, however, chooses to look at the boys.  In the article for Keep Your Child out of Jail, Chesena Coleman is trying to show that girls are at fault when she interviews sixteen-year-old DeWayne who states that girls just come up to him, get his cell phone number, and start sending him naked pictures.  Regardless of whether or not he has actually received “hundreds of sexting pictures,” he still asserts that girls need to be careful because they never know where their pictures might end up.  This is exactly the problem the Hasinoff looks at.  If a girl sent her boyfriend a picture of herself and he kept it to himself, what harm is done?  Perhaps the boys need to be taken into consideration for the distribution of this so-called child pornography.  It is easy to point to the girls who feel pressure from their peers to act a certain way, but instead of stifling the self-expression of our daughters, maybe we should have a conversation about respect with our sons.

There is a very extensive social discourse surrounding the way that teen girls use social media or technology to portray themselves in a certain light, which is almost always seen as negative.  Coleman’s article, along with most news stories brings up sexting as if it is a very common epidemic; as if all teens do this on a day to day basis.  The fact is, however, that a very small amount of teens are actually participating.  Maybe the media and parents feeling the need to inform their children about how not to act is where these girls and boys even come up with such an idea.  Personally, I didn’t know of this as a problem in my high school, nor do I know of this as an issue among any of my friends.  Sexting has been taken out of context, placed the female party at fault only, and has been blown up to seem like much more prevalent than it is.  I think talking to children about acting in appropriate ways is very important, but do I think that speaking to an 8-year-old about not taking naked pictures of herself is necessary? No.

Sexting? Priceless…

Although this article is from 2009, I felt like I just had to discuss FOX News’ discourse surrounding the cultural phenomenon of teen sexting.  The article revolves around a poll done by Associated Press and MTV about teen involvement in the active sending and receiving of sexual texts and picture messaging.  Although the article states that only ¼ of teens admit to partaking in sexting, the first line still reads, “Think your kid is not ‘sexting’? Think again.”  The article continues by claiming that the danger is in the replicability and persistence of these messages, with the Internet turning what we might consider an ephemeral message into a lasting impression of ourselves to future employers and college admissions offices.  And while this may be true, the article once again proves its own fears statistically insignificant by claiming that only 14% of sexters suspect that their pictures are shared without their knowledge or permission and only 17% of sext-receivers claim to have ever passed them around.  The article continues by drawing connections to teen sexting and the legal ramifications of sending out pornographic images, and even goes so far as to link sexting with a batch of teen suicides that occurred as a result of digital bullying.

I found the angle of this particular discourse surrounding teen sexting to be rather blatant sensationalism of the topic.  The very fact that the author takes such a warning tone while openly including statistics that contradict the need for panic is almost laughable.  The American Academy of Pediatrics’ team of researchers did a similar study only a year later in 2011 that echoes similar numbers of teen involvement, with a mere 7% of questioned youth admitting to receiving a nude sexual image.  These numbers seem to suggest that the media’s fear of technological freedoms taking advantage of America’s youth is an overinflated one at best.  Although many promote this fear out of protection for the children, it is important to note that for many this fear looks like dollar signs.  There is money to be made in the industry of “protecting our kids from big bad technology,” and in a consumerist society don’t ever think that goes unnoticed by producers.  Eye Guardian is a perfect example of a company that perpetuates this fear of a naïve youth’s unmonitored Facebook profile, generating fear that promotes parents to buy their product.  The opposite can also be said for the money made off apps made to help children circumnavigate their over-protective parents, similarly promoting the fear that helps drive sales.  This consumerist tactic is accomplished by playing off both the parent and child’s perception of privacy, and then over exaggerating the invasion of that privacy to generate a need.  boyd and Marwick discuss these two vastly different notions of privacy in their article, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics.”  They basically establish that parents desire a sense of privacy as a form of protection that protects their children from stranger danger.  Teens, though, want privacy to protect their thoughts, words, and actions from their parents and authority figures.  By exaggerating the violation of privacy that social networking sites have caused to both the parent and child’s feeling of security, producers are able to create apps to counteract the technology’s flaw.  This is an extremely technological determinist belief, and this consumerist slant is one I’m noticing more and more in articles of this type.

Amy Hasinoff would certainly have a critique of this article, and I’d like to think she’d agree on the implications made by the fact that people can make money off of this fear of sexting.  Though the article tries to use science to reason that teenagers’ brains aren’t developed enough to make rational decisions about their sex lives, Hasinoff feels as though teens should be allowed to develop into their sexuality in a genuine way, with the freedom to express their sexual desires freely, in a way that is comfortable for them.  In her own article, Hasinoff is a firm advocate for young women, asserting that stifling these moments of sexual expression can actually stunt their sexual growth and perpetuates a modest, sexless woman who feels anything but empowered.  Though I agree with her ideas about empowering teens to develop in their own time, in a way that is true and genuine to their desire, I do think that there needs to be a distinction made between textual messages and picture messaging.  The ability to express in words how one feels sexually and what one desires romantically or sexually is important for anyone’s sexual development, and a right that anyone should be afforded to.  However, I do not think that sending nude or pornographic messages underage is an appropriate means of sexual expression.  This distinction is vital when evaluating discourse surrounding sexting, as the implications and social perceptions of text verses image are wildly different.

Realistically, I understand how the media is able to over-hype the prevalence of teen sexting because most parents are apt to over-worry about their children.  However, I can’t help but remember what it was like to be a teen trying to navigate my own sexual development and feel for the teens whose own development is constantly halted and monitored by overzealous authority.  It is this exact tug-of-war between child protection and freedom from authoritative censorship that allows producers to make money off of our privacy insecurities.  When we consider the power of the almighty dollar, and look at the pure statistics of this cultural phenomenon, the picture begins to really fall into place.  Teens may not actually be sexting all that much, but the fear is enough to promote parental involvement and have app developers laughing all the way to the bank.