Too Much Trust = No Trust


Marcy was desperate. That photo weighed too much on her: in the end she had decided to talk to her mother about it. Laura carefully listened to her daughter’s confession. Six months had gone by now.

“That boy I liked, remember?”

“Alex, of course, you talked about it all the time, he’s a year older than you, now he’s going to be in high school, isn’t he?”

“Yup. Here, before the summer I sent him a photo. Of me. Belly up, shirtless, nothing.”

“Even the face?” Asked Laura.

“Yup. My friend Faith insisted that they all do it. She too. So I sent it, only to him. I immediately asked him to cancel it. He told me he had done it. Instead a week ago Sam, the one who is in class with me, told me, I saw your boobs on a Telegram channel. Mom, I was wrong, I know. But help me delete the photo! Don’t tell dad, please!”

Laura was flabbergasted. On one side she was relieved: Marcy had finally spoken to her! She felt that something was wrong, everything was clear now. But she didn’t know what to do. Can the photo be deleted? She asked Fiona for advice, a geek friend, a real expert. Categorical answer: no. There was no going back.

Especially on encrypted channels like Telegram. Admittedly the channel could be closed, which is not obvious at all, but it would involve a complaint of child pornography to the platform providing the service “for free”… and still the point was that anyone could have downloaded that image on their smartphone or computer, and then circulated it further.

Marcy’s father was furious, he wanted to contact the Police. Even though they had been separated for years, Laura had thought that it was appropriate to warn him. They had always managed the difficulties together. Fiona, Laura’s geeky friend, immediately argued against the option of contacting the police:

“What will happen, think carefully!” She said to her friend. “Marcy will have to repeat all of this bad story over and over again to strangers in uniforms… and I bet the first comment will be: after all, it’s you who photographed yourself, little girl. Why? And you, lady, nice education, a thirteen year old daughter who sends naked photos on the Internet!”

“What do you suggest, then?” Asked Laura. “Can’t we enter the server and delete them, the photo of Marcy and all the others? There are a lot of illegal photos, it’s terrible, an obscenity!” Laura was really upset.

“You’re right,” Fiona replied. “But what are you most interested in? That Marcy is fine and has no repercussions, right? In my opinion, the first thing is to reconstruct what happened, and not alone. After all, the real problem isn’t the photo: it’s the spread of the photo, the betrayal of trust. Go and talk to the boy’s parents about it,” suggested her friend. “Try to understand what happened. What is done is done. But don’t repeat it.”

After a first moment of disbelief, Alex’s parents agreed to meet to discuss what had happened. Marcy had not wanted to be there, it was better: she had already been exposed too much. The boy received a harsh scolding, but at least he apologized. He broke into tears, and it turned out that there was also another one of his peers involved, a friend who frequented channels full of hard photos, on Telegram and beyond; for this reason Alex’s parents lodged a complaint against unknown persons, and a judicial order was made to the platform to remove the pornographic content.

Marcy learned the lesson. After that story she often repeated to her friends: do not be tricked! Be careful of yourself. And if something happens, tell me, let’s face it. We’re in the same boat. It’s not us who should be ashamed: it is these creeps who betray our trust, and those who go looking for this kind of thing, people who say they are our friends!

Too much trust equals no trust.

To Understand

Every day new ways of communicating and new social networks were born. The primary concern of parents and adults in general was often related to fraudulent or malicious use of these channels. Thus alarmist voices multiplied, as if young people were automatically in mortal danger as soon as they were online.

On the other hand, it was almost always those same parents and adults who provided the youngest devices to connect at all times, often insisting that they had to be always available. These two tendencies, the demonization of the tool that could make the child fall “into the wrong hands” and the exaltation of continuous connection, were evidently in profound contradiction. And they revealed an equally profound misunderstanding.

Social media were by no means the mirror of society, as was often said. Rather, they offered a deformed mirror of the people who used them, in which the anxiety of performance alternated with the fear of not being up to it, the morbid voyeurism, the anguish of feeling spied on, the shame of being laughed at, the desire to do not be different from others, and the hope to stand out from the crowd. They were structured to enhance narcissism and exhibitionism. They favored rash behaviors and behavioral automatisms. They tended to make “public”, in the sense of “published”, any information, even the most confidential. Without making distinctions.

Beyond terrible crimes in which unknown offenders took advantage of the naivety and good faith of the children, the vast majority of the problems related to the dissemination of intimate or personal materials were due to friends or presumed friends. In any case, people who were close to the kids, very often their peers.

Learning to grant one’s trust in a non-automatic and selective way was the first, fundamental step.

Good Practice

When we are online, always remember:

  • every photo, message, audio or video sent to someone can be spread beyond the recipient.
  • every photo, message, audio or video sent can be copied: it will remain in circulation forever.

If something goes wrong, remember that:

  • however serious it seems to us, however frightened and upset we may be, it is not the end of the world.
  • as much as we think we are the first to suffer a terrible thing, unfortunately it has happened to numerous others, and since we are not the only ones it means that we are not even alone!
  • talking about it with someone more adult and experienced is important, but it is not given that adults are always right: they may want to force us in a direction they think is right but that has an excessive emotional cost.
  • it is in moments of difficulty that true friends reveal themselves.

For adults who face difficult situations, it is good to remember that it is not control that decreases the dangers, but the correct risk assessment. A danger is exposure to an unknown event, it cannot be assessed; on the other hand, the risk can be assessed. Trust is a risky behavior, but essential for learning how to weave healthy relationships; relying blindly and automatically just because everyone does it is dangerous behavior, to be avoided in any circumstance.

From a legal point of view, it is almost always very difficult or even impossible to trace criminal liability of any kind. In fact, we usually deal with services offered by multinationals in different languages and different countries subject to heterogeneous legislation, with many intermediaries. Furthermore, the removal of offensive content, although sometimes possible, does not solve the problem at its root, but merely deletes that content from some devices.

On the other hand, if there were no requests for obscenity, obscenity would barely be diffused. Having the courage to report the users, first of all to the circle of peers and acquaintances, significantly contributes to not perceiving oneself as a victim.

The Word to the Social Media Manager

“I use Snapchat, they don't give a damn about me!” Once again, too much trust: this time in technology.

The original service offered by Snapchat simply allowed you to send a selfie from your mobile device to another Snapchat user, with the certainty that the message would be automatically deleted in a matter of seconds. Strengthened by this security, many sent intimate images “anyway they are canceled”. False. Yes, normally this is the case, but it is always possible to bypass security systems, for example by using another phone to retrieve the message that will disappear, or by taking a screenshot of the image.

The same was true of Instagram Stories and any other content scheduled to disappear after a certain amount of time.