This past March, Frankie Salamida agreed to babysit the social media account of a vacationing high school friend.
“My friend was on spring break and texted me and said, ‘Will you keep my Snapchat streaks going for me?’” Salamida, 20, said. “Being a good friend, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I’m on her phone, Snapchatting people for her, and I’m pretending to be her.”
Amidst holiday festivities, Salamida, a political science pre-law major at Michigan State University, decided to test her luck on St. Patrick’s Day by sending a naked photo to another Snapchat user through her friend’s account.
“I get the idea that I should send a kid we went to high school with a nude, thinking it’s from this girl, but it’s really me, without her knowing,” Salamida said. “So I’m at my other friend’s apartment, I went into the bathroom; I took a classy nude and then sent it to said guy from high school. I was patiently waiting for a response and the response said, ‘Now that was a great St. Patty’s Day gift.’”
According to DoSomething.org, 33 percent of college aged students have sent or received a nude “sext” – a sexually explicit message or photo transferred via a mobile phone. Additionally, 17 percent of “sexters” share the messages and photos they receive with others, and 55 percent of those share them with more than one person.
While developers design apps like Snapchat with easy access in mind, allowing users to access their own posts and those of the people they share them with, there are ways people maneuver around that set up.
In 2014, Snapchat fell victim to a large-scale hacking event by hackers attempting to raise awareness of how easily they could steal social media information, but that did not halt the app’s growth or widespread popularity. The app has updated to allow for users to choose who can see certain content they post, such as location and photo stories, but that does not always guarantee the safety of their information.
At the time, the New York native did not have any concerns, claiming she was “just going with it.” While thinking the event over, however, Salamida saw how it could have gone horribly wrong.
“Had he screenshotted it, I would’ve been like, ‘Oh, shit.’ I would’ve been opening a can of worms, because it wasn’t really [her]. I probably would have been slightly embarrassed. I was covering important parts, though. I was covering my nipples.”
While one may assume the picture or video being sent will only appear for the set amount of time – between one to ten seconds or indefinitely – the receiver has options to cheat that. With a simple Google search, third-party apps appear that allow users to save another’s videos without the sender knowing. Even a simple screenshot can do the trick.
Had Salamida lost her control over her intimate photos to her knowledge, cyber security expert Tom Holt, professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, said she would have had options to combat their distribution.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, Michigan does not currently have any sexting laws or laws pertaining to minors sending or receiving sexts, but it does have a law against revenge porn, the nonconsensual distribution of someone’s sexually explicit media via the internet. Thirty eight states and D.C. have laws that prohibit revenge porn.
“You can try to sue the person on civil charges,” Holt said. “but it does vary from state to state as to legal liability of distribution. If the person appearing in the photos is under 18, then the sender or distributor may be brought up on child pornography distribution charges, which are extremely harsh.”
In July 2016, Michigan passed Senate Bill 508, also known as Public Act 89, which allows for legal action if someone distributes sexually explicit or suggestive photos or videos without the original source’s consent. Senator Steven Bieda (D-Warren), one of the bill’s sponsors, felt it necessary given how easy it is to access data.
“We live in an age of technological marvels,” Bieda said. “Sometimes bad actors use technology for the wrong purpose.”
Holt said that should someone’s sexting experience turn sour, particularly with a revenge porn situation, victims can claim their photos are “intellectual property.”
“You can contact ISPs and websites and ask that the content be taken down,” Holt said. “Technically, individuals can claim that their photos are intellectually property and they did not give anyone else permission to distribute the material. Google and other providers have started to use this technique on behalf of victims and it is somewhat effective.”
Details of what is considered sexually explicit varies by state, but if found guilty of distributing someone’s suggestive photos or videos without the original source’s consent in Michigan, the perpetrator can receive a misdemeanor and or a possible prison sentence and fines.
“Within seconds, millions of viewers can view photos that were only intended for private viewing,” Bieda said. “Public Act 89 of 2016 goes a long way toward stopping nonconsensual photos before more lives are ruined.”
In the end, Salamida said that when she hit send, she knew the responsibility left her hands and fell into the recipient’s.
“It’s about trust,” she said. “Whatever happens, happens.”