A newly launched campaign on safe sexting and online dating aims to convince people to care more about their online privacy.
The campaign, called #MishAyb, or #noshame, was created by the digital protection NGO, SMEX “to incentivize people to care about their privacy,” SMEX campaign manager, Azza El Masri, said.
As there are no data protection laws in the country specifically protecting people from sextortion or revenge porn, SMEX is looking to give people the tools to actively safeguard against these online dangers.
“The E-transactions law is the first really exhaustive law that has to do with data protection but it does not explicitly talk about revenge porn or sextortion,” Masri said.
Two parts of the campaign, one detailing the practices of safe online dating and the other advising individuals on how to send safe nudes, were launched on Valentine’s day this year, and were based on a report detailing “Online Privacy Threats to Women and LGBTIQ Communities in Lebanon.”
The report outlines a range of issues that women and members of the LGBTIQ community in Lebanon face online - from harassment and revenge porn or sextortion to the nonconsensual outings of LGBTIQ individuals.
The NGO has tracked 22 individual cases of sextortion that have been reported with the ISF since 2014, of which 14 victims identified as women. However, this number is likely much higher in reality, the report says.
“The dataset includes no cases mentioning LGBTIQ individuals, which is likely a result of both communities’ fear to report these cases to the authorities and the media’s reluctance to report on these issues,” the report states.
Statistics from the ISF reveal that 193 cases were recorded in 2015, 187 in 2016, and 236 in 2017.
In only 14, 22 and 20 cases respectively, were the perpetrators arrested.
The report cites Joseph Moussallem, a colonel at the ISF’s Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau, as saying that the ISF has received 346 total complaints of online sextortion, and that by early 2017, it was receiving complaints almost every day.
Masri says the lack of a legal framework that deals with sextortion or online blackmail in the country was, in part, the motivation for launching this campaign.
“The whole idea of this idea of this campaign was how to invigorate [members of marginalized groups] with the tools for them to defend themselves and for them to be strong enough to protect themselves,” Masri said.
SMEX says it found a discrepancy in the way officials responded to reported cases of sextortion or online blackmailing.
“In cases involving, straight, cisgendered women, the authorities attempt to help arrest blackmailers, [whereas] LGBTIQ individuals rarely receive any kind of protection from authorities,” the report states.
An ISF source denied this, saying, “there is no difference in the way lesbian women and [straight] women are treated.”
The campaign was therefore directly targeted at these marginalized groups who are more likely to be on the receiving end of harassment online.
Masri also mentioned how hard it is to get the general population to care about their privacy, as people tend to prioritize other issues, such as physical safety, which can make campaigns like this difficult.
“It’s even hard to do anywhere, but especially here in Lebanon because there are so many other needs that aren’t met,” she said.
“We decided to target the underprivileged, marginalized groups who are more likely to be victims of cyber harassment, sextortion or blackmail, [because] we thought that for them privacy would be an integral issue.”
Masri said the overall reaction to the campaign, which was launched both online on different social media channels and offline through colorful posters depicting comics of intersectional individuals navigating the challenges of online dating and sexting, was positive.
The campaign received over 7,500 clicks combined on social media within the first week of launching, though the sexting guide was much more popular than the online-dating guide. Masri attributes this to “something called ‘dating app fatigue.’ People don’t really want to go on dating apps anymore, or they don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a dating app.”
“The negative reaction that we got was about how we are promoting this kind of behavior, [but] we are not promoting it, we are just tackling something that is happening,” Masri said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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