These past few weeks my organisation, Red Dot Foundation, has partnered with Supreme Court advocate Nappinai NS on a programme called ‘CyberSaathi’ which explains the responsible use of technology, the impact of online harassment, and the remedial measures available. It covers various topics including sexting, pornography and the misuse of nude photographs and videos. We also discuss what consent means and how violations of it translate to criminal offences.
Our programme is needed as too often young people do not receive comprehensive sexuality education and then turn to the Internet for information. They may stumble onto pornography which rarely is a realistic depiction of sex. Forty percent of teenagers have watched porn by the age of 14 and 80 percent of them hadn’t actively gone looking for it. Many young people may not be fully informed about what they’re seeing whilst the adults in their lives have no clue about their children’s digital footprints as parents/guardians are themselves not very familiar with the latest technology offerings
Of course, being informed about these issues is even more crucial now as we are spending most of our time on our electronic devices, accessing the Internet for work and education, and for pleasure. We are consciously and unconsciously consuming information and may not fully understand the implications of some of our online actions. Take for example the recent Delhi ‘Bois locker room’ incident which exposed an Instagram group on which sexually explicit and violent messages and morphed pictures of underage girls were shared.
To further understand the current culture of how people use social media, dating apps, and access pornography or participate in it, I watched the documentary film Hot Girls Wanted and the six part documentary series Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On which explored the intersection of technology and sexuality.
The film Hot Girls Wanted followed the journey of five young women aged 18-25 years as they joined the pornography industry and also looked more broadly at women in this age group and their motivation to join. It showed that most wanted to feel special and desired, some of them wanted to earn “quick money” to pay off their bills, especially their high college tuition fees. Every month, pornography sites draw high visitor numbers, exceeding the combined viewership of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Twitter, so there’s always demand for new content. The ease with which anyone could use their phone cameras to film themselves and post the videos online was also a common theme.
Many of the young women had not told their parents what they did as they feared disapproval. In one case, the young woman told her mother and boyfriend but had yet to inform her father. However, by the end of the film, she had told her father and then dropped out of the industry because she realised that working in it was not sustainable, did not really earn her the windfall she had anticipated, and negatively impacted her loving relationships with her family and friends.
After two or three months, most young women are removed from the industry anyway to make way for the next “fresh face.” As was mentioned in the documentary, every day, there are hundreds of girls turning 18, eager to join the industry. But to sustain themselves, they need to take on more complicated roles including those that involve extreme violence and non–consensual bondage which takes a toll on their bodies and minds.
The six-part documentary series that I watched next kicks off with exploring female producers and their “feminist” perspective of making these films from the woman’s perspective and depicting sex that is more realistic and that does not promote violence against women and underage girls. One third of all Internet porn clips contain acts of physical aggression of which women are the target 94% of the time.
The second episode explores dating apps and hook-up culture through the experiences of a 40-year-old man. He dates women not more than thrice as he has a “smorgasbord” to choose from. When he wants to move to the next woman, he ghosts the one he is with at the time rather than politely exit the relationship. He finally meets a woman he likes but when she has an opinion different from his, he just dumps her, indicating that he is not looking for“depth” in relationships. Some of the statistics shared during the episode revealed that more than 20% of all adults have used dating apps and a quarter of them think there are lots of choices in people to date. One in five people has been ghosted and one in three people has ghosted someone. They believe they are “keeping up with the times” in this way
The next two episodes explore women producers in the porn industry who are in-charge of their own content and decide what they will do with their bodies and what their boundaries are. They are in control of their business and finances. Several of them are business savvy, looking at statistics, data analytics and maximising revenue by optimising content with viewers. The episodes deep-dive into camming and the copious amounts of porn being produced and shared on a daily basis on the Internet. These women spoke about “watching out for each other” and how “controlling content is important”.
I found this episode particularly interesting as the women producers wanted a safe working environment for their clients and the porn artists, and also wanted them to be fully informed about the benefits and pitfalls in the industry. The women producers featured in the series made every attempt to emphasise that the artist has a choice and does not have to feel compelled to participate in a project that was intimidating or violent. One of the stories was about a new artist who chose to do a solo routine and a girl-girl sex scene rather than a boy-girl one and no one forced her to change her choice. Also, one of the women producers helped the artists open a bank account and set up a business entity so that they could maximise their financial gain and become independent. Further, she explained to the new artists how they owned their own content as it was linked to their business entity and they had full control over it whilst she only earned a commission from the views. This meant that the artists continued to benefit from the content on their own sites.
The next episode focused on a male producer who said his motivation was to be an entrepreneur to make good on the American Dream. Having his own talent agency and producing content for his website was a means for him to achieve success whereby he could take care of his parents and feel successful. He had no compunctions about creating content where choking and slapping women was normalised.
The final episode is about Marina Lonino who live-streamed the rape of her friend, a 17-year-old girl, on Periscope. She was so caught up in the likes and comments from her followers that she didn’t pay attention to her friend’s pleas for help or call the police. Marina was 18, legally an adult, whilst her friend who was raped was 17 years old and legally underage. Marina was tried for abetting her rape and sentenced to nine months in prison. She said that what she saw when her friend was being raped was less violent in her mind than what she was used to seeing on Periscope. She further stated that she was confused by the comments urging her to continue filming which made her “feel significant to someone”.
What I learned through these series is that our life experience is changing constantly because of the new dimension the Internet provides. My experience as a teenager or a tween or a young adult is very different from that of the current generation. Where I had only one channel on Doordarshan for infotainment, the youth of today have a ton of information available at their fingertips. We as adults need to provide them with education, information and guidance to navigate these spaces responsibly and safely without imposing moral authority on them.
To be sure, like with everything in life, technology and the Internet are only tools to make our lives easier. How we use them is up to us. Early education on digital rights like we provide in CyberSaathi can help in determining the boundaries established by legislation and the remedial measures available in case of misuse or abuse. Gender sensitivity training and consent education can help in critical thinking with choices regarding relationships and navigating the complex world around us.
Because the Internet is an integral part of our daily lives, it is important that young people are given the right information so that they can explore the world around them, access information without violating legislations, know their rights in the virtual and physical world and have enjoyable and consensual relationships with whoever they choose. We want our youth to be comfortable and confident in exploring their sexuality and having healthy relationships and the Internet can definitely be a friend to them in doing this.
 Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
Cover Image: Netflix