What is ‘porn bombing’? It’s the sharing of explicit images directly onto your social media feed without your knowledge or permission.
My Facebook timeline was porn-bombed. One Friday morning no-holds-barred videos of a woman having sex with several men appeared amongst my usual posts.
An aghast friend texted me frantic warnings. Unfortunately, her phone had been on the table at a coffee shop so an elderly lady nearby was visibly shocked. Although I couldn’t control what had happened I apologised profusely for the embarrassment.
I rushed to delete the posts, bumbling and fumbling through this new experience, with Facebook friends advising me whether and when the posts were disappearing. Several frantic minutes later the last of the posts disappeared.
I took a breath and turned my attention to where the material had come from. The person who had ‘shared on the timeline of …’ hadn’t troubled to hide his identity, probably because it was never genuine. He’d ‘friended’ me three weeks earlier and quickly followed up with private messages asking to know me better. Not welcoming his approaches I’d disabled chat for him and thought it enough.
I presume the porn bombing was his retaliation. A note to me that I couldn’t ignore him and get away with it.
Belatedly, I blocked his account and reported him to Facebook.
I ran into my zumba class late, explaining breathlessly. I was dismayed to learn my instructor had not only seen the images on my timeline … but her little boy had been in the room. I made with the profuse apologies again.
As soon as I could return to Facebook I posted an apology to anybody who might have seen the explicit images. I have to confess the subsequent comments contained a little drollery, largely based on an assumption that the female participant was a willing sex industry worker.
I was concerned with my embarrassment, my obligation to apologise and the disruption to my working day but finally I turned to my work, the editing of The Christmas Promise. A prominent theme of the book is ‘revenge porn’, the sharing of intimate images of a person without their knowledge and with the intention to cause distress. It’s a reprehensible crime that humiliates the victims and the case histories I’d read had made me want to illuminate it in my writing.
My mind flew back to the videos. I realised the woman’s had been the only body apparently owning a face. Had she known she was being filmed? Or how the material would be used? Or had some tiny camera been trained on her without her knowledge and the men’s faces later edited out? If so, a private life to which the woman is entitled had been converted into a public humiliation that left my moment of dismay seem miniscule.
I’ll never know the woman’s role in her intimate image reaching the eyes of a countless number but, annoyed at how easy it had been for my timeline to become a vehicle, I could at least investigate what I could do to protect it in future.
I looked into changing my Facebook settings to ‘Friends’ or ‘Friends of friends’ but have always chosen ‘public’ for a reason: I want my posts to be read. I’m an author and creative writing tutor and welcome friend requests from readers, other writers, book bloggers, industry professionals, students and all kinds of interesting people, whether I know them in real life or not, with a smattering of local friends, old school friends and workmates sprinkled in. The strategy creates a pleasingly vibrant combination of networking, promo, research, chat and minutia.
My research led me to take three steps:
I went to Settings then Timeline and tagging and decreed that only friends could post on my timeline and no such post would appear until I’d approved it via my activity log.
I began to vet Facebook friend requests. My red flags became:
- we share no or few mutual friends
- his/her posts are not visible unless after I accept a friend request
- claims of being in the American military
- garbled profiles that probably came through translation software.
I’ve adopted a policy of instantly unfriending and blocking people who try an engage me in back-channel conversation of the ‘Hey beautiful! I’d like to get to know you!’ variety.
These small measures have changed my Facebook experience for the better. I’ve been able to block people trying to sully my timeline with attempts to sell knock-off designer sunglasses and another attempt at porn bombing.
If the female in those porn videos was a victim of unscrupulous sexual partners then here’s at least one pair of eyes she’s unlikely to reach in future.