Alert for pornographic websites that use photos of minors in social networks as a claim

From Instragram to a pornographic website without consent. The Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office has detected a sudden increase in complaints from young women, many of them minors, who discover that photographs they had posted on their social networks have ended up as a claim of pornographic pages.

So far this year, only in the province of Barcelona have received about fifteen complaints of this type each month, when before the pandemic had not been detected cases, according to the prosecutor delegate of computer crime in the province of Barcelona, Roberto Valverde. The new phenomenon occurs in a context of increased complaints of cybercrime, from fraud to pornography through harassment or extortion.

The prosecutor stresses that the image taken from the social networks of young girls is used exclusively as a claim of the pornographic website, for example to imply that you can see the girl naked, but then it is not so. Valverde values that the confinement has influenced the increase of these practices, although he believes that we must also take into account a novel scenario, of greater use and some overexposure in social networks of some young people.

It is the victims themselves who are alerted by their environment that a photo they had freely posted on a social network, in many cases in a bikini or without much clothing, is being used to promote a pornography website. Sometimes the portals take advantage of the profiles of teenagers who, although they are not famous, accumulate thousands of followers in networks.

The fact that these are photographs uploaded to the network by the girls themselves makes it very difficult to prosecute these behaviors, regrets Valverde. They can not be punished as child pornography because, although they are a claim, is an adult website. Nor is the digital impersonation of the image and identity, despite being a historical claim of the Prosecutor, who claims its inclusion in the Penal Code for more than a decade.

Criminal lawyer Laia Serra agrees that with the current legislation it is “very complicated” to act against this type of digital impersonation, but at the same time recalls that, in addition to being a historical claim of the Prosecutor’s Office, the pact of State against gender violence already contemplated in 2019 the modification of the Criminal Code to cover behaviors such as digital impersonation. The reform remains unrealized.

“To want is to be able, and at the moment it is not wanted,” laments Serra. In addition to putting duties to the legislator to criminally punish these behaviors, in the opinion of this penalist some cases, applying the gender perspective, could be investigated as a crime against moral integrity. If cases do not reach the courts, warns Serra, it is impossible that precautionary measures are issued to delete the images from the web.

However, the most common option among parents, even if a complaint is filed, ends up being to go to civil proceedings to seek compensation for the fraudulent use of the images, or to urge financial penalties for the misuse of personal data.

Beyond its criminal treatment, the sociologist and expert in digital innovation Liliana Arroyo, author of ‘You are not your ‘selfie’ (Milenio, 2020), believes it is necessary to address this phenomenon from the education of minors in the use of social networks but also from the institutions to force the technology companies to create “safe spaces” in the networks for adolescents. “The industry has a responsibility,” he stresses.

This expert gives as an example of a safe space on the networks for teenagers the restriction on the use of data derived from photos, or the express prohibition that they end up in image banks. “Young people must also be able to experience their adolescence on the networks, which is nothing more than exploring their own identity, without it haunting them for the rest of their lives,” Arroyo argues.

Increase in the number of complaints

In addition to this new behavior related to the photos posted on networks of minors, the service that pilots Valverde has detected a general increase in computer crimes after the pandemic. Only in the province of Barcelona 61 criminal proceedings were opened last year for child pornography, 169% more than in 2019, while the harassment of minors through telecommunications almost doubled.

For now, no open criminal investigation has been opened against internet portals that make apology for anorexia and other eating disorders, one of the health problems that has not ceased to affect young people during the confinement. The only sanctions are those issued by the Generalitat through administrative channels, such as the 85,000 euros imposed in 2019 on an Irish company.

In addition to the sanctions for infringing consumer regulations, at the criminal level the apology of eating disorders has since July of these years with greater legal framework, as a result of the Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents was criminalized incitement to eating disorders as well as suicide or self-harm.

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