Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent

sexting panic cover

Sexting–sending sexually explicit images or text messages over cell phones and social media–takes place among adults and teens alike. Yet the public debates spurred by sexting overwhelmingly focus on adolescent girls who share images of themselves.

Sexting Panic illustrates that anxieties about technology and teen girls’ sexuality distract from critical questions about how to adapt norms of privacy and consent for new media. Though mobile phones can be used to cause harm in new ways, Amy Adele Hasinoff notes that criminalization and abstinence policies meant to curb sexting often fail to account for the distinction between consensual sharing and the malicious distribution of a private image. Indeed, Hasinoff challenges the idea that sexting inevitably victimizes young women. Instead, she encourages society to recognize young people’s capacity for choice and to rethink the assumption that everything digital is public.

Timely and engaging, Sexting Panic analyzes the debates about sexting while recommending responses to it that are realistic and nuanced rather than based on misplaced fears about deviance, sexuality, and digital media.

Read the Introduction.

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Contents

Introduction

PART I: Typical responses to sexting

Chapter 1: The criminalization consensus and the right to sext

Chapter 2: Beyond teenage biology

Chapter 3: Self-esteem advice and blame

PART II: Alternative ways to think about sexting

Chapter 4: Sexualization and participation

Chapter 5: Information and consent

Conclusion

Detailed Description

This book offers new ways of thinking about privacy and consent in social media by exploring how mass media, policy makers, and legal and education officials respond to teenage girls who use digital media to produce sexually explicit images of themselves. Legal and educational authorities often blame and even prosecute girls who sext while paying little attention to people who maliciously distribute private images without permission. I suggest instead that consent is an important element the production, distribution, and possession of private images and information.

Social media users are routinely told through policy decisions, the terms of service they agree to by using social media, and in mainstream advice about online safety, that their personal information and the content they produce can be freely distributed and sold—and that this unrestricted flow is vital to the digital economy. I argue that such claims about the end of privacy and the impossibility of controlling information online authorize data mining and surveillance practices and function as a seemingly gender-neutral way of shaming sexually active girls. That is, while it may be appealing to advise girls to simply abstain from sexting in order to protect themselves, ending the discussion there obscures the harm of abusive, nonconsensual sexting. I suggest that adopting the standard that explicit consent should be required for the circulation of private images and information could result in radically different responses to sexting and profound implications for social media polices and architectures.

I also argue that sexting should be viewed as a form of media production. Building on my critiques of mass media and policy’s implicit assumptions that girls’ agency is deficient, particularly in terms of their sexual choices and uses of new communication technologies, I offer this as an alternative model.  In combination with my argument that consent is a vital dimension of social media, this reorientation to sexting as media production highlights that creating sexual images is not inherently harmful but that the malicious distribution of private images certainly is. This model moves the conversation about youth and sexuality online beyond assertions that all forms of sexting are deviant criminal offenses to a more careful consideration of what girls do and do not consent to when they engage in digitally mediated sexual practices.

This book combines an analysis of mass media representations with an examination of legal and policy discourses to investigate the production and circulation of commonsense assumptions about girls, sexuality, and digital media. I examine the connections between mass media and official government texts by looking at sources such as television news, talk shows, newspaper articles, position papers, press releases, legal proceedings, and legislative and parliamentary hearings and debates. I analyze the common sense that travels between media and policy and the relationships and interactions between a range of expert and authoritative discourses. By examining the problematic responses to sexting and offering alternative ways of thinking about this new social issue, I contend that scholars, educators, and policymakers need to reconsider taken-for-granted ideas about digital media and young women’s sexuality.

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13 Comments

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