The Social Psychology Of The Naked Selfie

If you’re building a tech product
that has anything to do with
photos then you’re probably feeling
an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu
lately, and it has to do with data
security.
It had become so routine
that throughout the fall it was hard
to imagine a Monday without
hearing about another set of iCloud
photos that been hacked during
the weekend.
And these aren’t just typical
pictures of the girl down the street
or the guy next door .

Apple/iCloud products were at risk
for getting hacked, but they aren’t
the only ones. So was Snapchat,
and probably all other major sites
hosting photos. Scandals have
been popping up again and
again around hacked photos,
especially nude ones. So, why do
we keep seeing these
scandals? There are two opposing
camps trying to explain why we’re
having nude photo leaks, but who’s
right?

One group says something like,
“Enough, children. Want to stop
nude photos from getting
hacked? Keep your clothes on in
selfies and the problem will go
away by itself.” Those on the other
side of the debate insist we must
not blame the victim and instead
should demand better privacy
protections for iCloud and other
digital storage accounts.

Sound familiar? That’s because it
is. We’ve had scandals about
hacked photos going back every
year for almost 10 years , and
people keep writing these same
reactions after each one.
Annually rehashing this debate for
a decade hasn’t gotten us too far.

While we should expect companies
to update security features, we can
also expect hackers will continue
improving their toolkits. And as for
warning people to not take nude
selfies, since when has issuing
warnings been the key to changing
behavior?
Education and warnings won’t solve
problems unless the problems were
caused by lack of knowledge.

Why, then, do people keep taking
naked digital pictures of themselves
and store them in places that could
be hacked? They were probably
aware of the other nude photo
scandals that occurred so it’s not
that they don’t know what’s going
on.

There’s actually a science behind
why we keep seeing these repeated
nude photo scandals — the science
of social.

The truth is, sexting — sending
sexually suggestive photos or
videos via cell phone — is
increasingly common among people
aged 25-34. According to a recent
Pew Report , 15 percent of adults
ages 18-24 and 22 percent of adults
ages 25-34 admit to having sent
such a message. Knowing that, it’s
less of a surprise that in the past
year, thousands of young people
have had their nude photos
hacked, including famous ones like
Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis.

Are we saying, then, that this is
simply a case of peer pressure?
Nope. The research at the UCLA
Center for Digital Behavior has
revealed that our perceptions of
what is normal in our social
networks affects our behavior. In
one study, college students viewed
a selection of Facebook photos of
their peers and were then asked to
estimate the percentage of
students who engaged in sex
without condoms and sex with
strangers, and whether they
themselves behave this way.

When students saw more sexually
suggestive photos of their peers
(e.g. kissing, flirting with the
camera, wearing revealing clothing),
they reasoned that more of their
peers were having unprotected sex
and sex with strangers. They also
said that they themselves planned
on having more sex without
condoms and sex with strangers.

What people think their peers are
doing (regardless of what they are
actually doing) influences their
behavior. If people think their
friends are taking naked selfies and
putting these pics online (even if
the truth is that their friends are
sitting at home chatting with mom),
then they will start uploading
selfies in the buff. And this
psychology isn’t unique to only
youth. It affects all of human
behavior.

So what should you do if you’re
working on a photo-related
technology and want a solution
other than more data security to
keep your product out of the
hacking spotlight? My advice, as a
behavioral psychologist, is that
adding another few lines to your
legal page or slapping on a data
security warning pop-up about the
risks of photo hacking won’t work —
just like it doesn’t work for
smoking, alcohol use or most other
behaviors.

You’ve got to change the social
environment to change the
behavior. The short answer to
change user behavior is to build a
community around how people
upload and share pictures. Create
a social norm on what types of
photos should be taken and shared
using your technology.
It might sound difficult, but there’s
a science behind how to create a
community for positive social
change, and you can find that
information right here .

Behavior-change campaigns work by
understanding and changing the
social environment. If a site wants
to reduce the amount of sexts on
its platform, they must similarly
apply this science of social.

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