Explicit ‘selfies’ of several young Maltese women have been posted on to social networking site Tumblr in recent days, sparking fears of cyber-bullying and ‘revenge porn’.
Singer Ira Losco took to Facebook to condemn the “very irresponsible men” sharing photos of the women, who were her friends on the social network.
‘Selfie’ is online slang for a self-portrait photograph.
The Tumblr blog in question invites viewers to submit photos of “Maltese girls caught on camera”.
Nude photos of three different women have since been removed but they have been widely shared on social networks and mobile phone apps, along with those of another two young women.
It is alarming that such young women would send these pictures to peers they naturally can’t trust
The case highlights the dangers of young people using techno-logy to share sexually explicitphotos with others they think they can trust.
Ms Losco found it “scary” that the younger generation had so many ways to interact online, yet it was choosing to create and share soft porn.
“It is alarming that such young women would send pictures of a certain nature to peers they naturally can’t trust,” she added.
The singer, who has campaigned against bullying in the past, feels the widespread sharing of the photos is a form of cyber-bullying.
One woman depicted wrote on angry message on the Tumblr blog in which she claimed to have uploaded the photos by mistake to her account on Instagram, another photo-sharing site. She threatened to report the anonymous blogger.
The police confirmed yester-day that they were aware of the photos and investigations had been initiated.
It is possible the blog could introduce the phenomenon of ‘revenge porn’ to Malta, whereby sexually explicit photos are publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual.
Revenge porn is typically up-loaded by jilted lovers or hackers. It is a highly controversial practice that has faced legal challenges in the US.
On Monday, Israel became the first country to ban naked photos and sexually explicit films that were posted online without the subject’s consent.
One of the Tumblr blog operators posted yesterday that there would be a “change in tactics” due to complaints. It would now only upload self-submissions with hidden or blurred faces, although its means of verifying that subjectshad submitted the images were not specified.
IT and communications lawyer Antonio Ghio said the blog could still fall foul of pornography and obscenity laws despite thisnew policy.
Distributing, circulating or publicly displaying pornographic material in Malta is prohibited by Article 208 of the Criminal Code.
Pornography is defined as material whose dominant characteristic is the exploitation of, or undue emphasis on, sex.
Dr Ghio said much would depend on how the police interpreted the law, as magazines such as Playboy were now sold in shops without criminal sanction.
“There is a huge distinction between what is written in the law and what is being enforced.”
He also pointed out that Tumblr is not a Maltese website.
“If the server is based in US it might lead to enforcement problems. We would need to establish where material is being posted from.
“If they [the bloggers] are not based in Malta one would question whether Maltese law would apply,” Dr Ghio said, pointing out that foreign porn sites available in Malta do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Maltese authorities.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform owned by Yahoo.
Users can create blogs and post about anything, but a sizable number choose to upload porno-graphic content.
Dr Ghio explained that sending a naked ‘selfie’ to a lover would not break the law because the photo would not be public.
However, making that photo publicly available in Malta could be deemed a breach of the criminal code.
He said one needed to also analyse whether there had been a breach of data protection laws in such cases.
“Strictly, any processing of any image without the consent of the data subject would allow the subject to take action with the Data Protection Commissioner,” he said, adding that there could again be jurisdiction problems as Tumblr may not be under obligation to share information with the Maltese authorities.
Tumblr’s guidelines state: “Don’t post content that violates anyone’s privacy, including... private photos of your ex’s junk (no matter how attractive).”
A police spokesperson reminded the public of the importance of exercising caution when sharing private information.
“The same applies for those instances when an individual knowingly allows photos of private moments to be taken.
“It must be pointed out that it is very difficult to control the dissemination of such content once it is being circulated over the internet or through other means.
“In such situations, prevention is better than the cure,” the police said.