Mexicans are being reminded to think twice before they send out photos of their 🍆 and 🍑 .
The Mexican government has teamed up with several children’s rights organizations to launch a nationwide campaign against “sexting,” the practice of sending and receiving sexually explicit messages and/or images on mobile phones.
The term “sexting” originally described the exchange of sexual text messages, but the rapid rise of smartphone technology has broadened the definition to include all types of media—from videos to emojis to GIFs to Snapchats.
The anti-sexting campaign, known officially as “Think Before You Sext: 10 Reasons Not to Perform Sexting,” has triggered a debate between government officials and internet rights NGOs on whether the practice leads to so-called “sextortion” (blackmailing someone by threatening to publish sexual content) and “revenge porn” (an ex publishing explicit material without consent). Although the campaign means well, critics say it might be overly “paternalistic” while laying out a “prohibitionist” strategy.
An animated video warns the country’s youth about the risks posed by sexting:
The campaign is being headed by Mexico’s National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI for its Spanish acronym).
“Sexting is a latent threat because it starts out as something fun but it can end up in a grave situation that spins out of control, resulting in social, physical, psychological, and legal consequences for the victims,” said INAI president Ximena Puentes de la Mora at a press conference last week.
“[Sexting] cannot be prohibited, it cannot be eradicated, it would be like saying we can eradicate sexually transmitted diseases,” INAI commissioner Francisco Javier Acuña said at the press conference. “Sexting involves behavioral risks and the only thing we can do with behavioural risks is to control their effects through prevention, sharing information and explanations.”
INAI warns sexting involving minors may be classified as child pornography and can therefore be punishable with up to 7 to 12 years of jail time.
However, Mexico City-based organizations such as The Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) have criticized the anti-sexting campaign for supposedly framing the practice as a “moral problem” while reflecting a “reduced vision of sexuality and its free exercise.”
“[Sexting] is part of the free exercise of sexual rights,” reads a statement by R3D. “By stigmatizing sexting in a general way, the campaign limits the development of people, impeding them from enjoying their sexual lives through technology.”
R3D adds, “The campaign ultimately holds the victim responsible, like those who say women are raped for ‘provoking’ the rapist.”
The organization says government agencies should seek guidance from initiatives like “Better Nudes,” a campaign that aims to reduce risks surrounding sexting by teaching people coding techniques, the use of metadata, and security tips to protect their privacy at all times.
“The sexting phenomenon needs to be seen through a wide lens,” said Armando Novoa, director of the Mexico City-based Alliance for Internet Security (ASI for its Spanish acronym), an organization that promotes children’s digital rights and has surveyed over 200,000 Mexican students from both private and public schools on sexting.
Novoa said new applications like Snapchat have created a false sense of security when it comes to sharing nude pics. Technology keeps evolving but our grasp of the consequences remains outdated.
“To tell them not to do it simply doesn’t work,” he said. “We have to teach them how to do it responsibly, without exposing themselves and others. Children need to know about this the moment they get access to the internet.”
The expert said the government’s anti-sexting campaign seems to invoke fear rather than the need to educate society about these practices.
“Sexting is growing extremely fast,” he said. “When we carried out our first survey in 2010, we found the incidence of sexting didn’t even reach 1%. In 2015, however, 35.7% of the students surveyed said they knew someone who performed sexting.”
Although Novoa doesn’t think sexting is necessarily a gateway to revenge porn and other harmful practices, he says he’s seen way too many cases were teenagers — unaware of the consequences — begin sharing sensitive images without consent.
“A minor who publishes photographs of a naked ex may not go to jail but can be fined for moral damage.”
Novoa’s organization provides legal counsel to parents whose sons and daughters have fallen victims to revenge porn. He said they’ve offered advice on some 200 cases this year alone. “We had a case where a family was forced to pay 2 million pesos (around $108,000.) in reparations.”
He said the revenge porn problem is best illustrated by recent media reports which revealed a Mexican website known as yucatercos.org was conducting sextortion by inviting men to upload photographs of their naked ex-girlfriends. The website was reportedly contacting some of the women and asking them for money to take down the images.
The sexting controversy is also shedding light on persistent problems like machismo, said Novoa.
“Our data shows Mexican men are sending 48.2% of the sexual photographs while women are sending 51.8%,” he said. “This means they practically engage equally in sexting. However, when it comes to reporting incidents, many of which started out as playful sexting, 49 out of every 50 victims are women.”