Dear Trish, Help! Some stranger followed me on social media and is now threatening to send these photoshopped nude pictures of me to all of my followers. What should I do?!
*Trigger Warning: This blog post contains a potentially distressing discussion of sexual harassment.*
I want to start by thanking you for being brave enough to share what I’m sure has been a traumatic, deeply stressful experience for you. For everyone reading along this week: I know that lately, it’s been a series of very important, serious posts here on “Ask Trish…” but following last week’s post, we heard from a lot of you, and I wanted to tackle another side to the digital nudity issue, one that was referenced in this week’s message: photoshopped nudes. Thank you to all of you for following along and engaging: creating conversations about these problems is the first and one of the most important steps to tackling them.
For folks reading this post and wondering…photoshopped nudes? What are “photoshopped nudes”?, you’re definitely not alone. Photoshopped nudes refer to images of one or more people that have been digitally altered to look like nudes, even though they’re not. Scammers will commonly grab a public image or an image that they have access to on the internet, then edit the image, so the subject’s face, for example, remains, but an edited, nude body has been placed over their actual body. If you’re now realizing…oh my goodness, wait — that means anyone can be the victim of photoshopped nudes!, you’re 100% right. This is an issue that affects men and women of all ages and all backgrounds.
Victims of photoshopped nudes often struggle in ways that are similar to revenge porn victims (to learn more about revenge porn, check out last week’s post). Even though it’s not their actual body, many victims still feel “exposed,” and, of course, humiliated, afraid, and traumatized. Indeed, though it’s in absolutely no way their fault, the harmful experience can still create feelings of shame.
So…how can you tackle the issue of photoshopped nudes? First off, there’s the key preventative approach: wherever possible, don’t make your social media profiles public, and carefully approve followers. If your Insta account isn’t already private, it’s worth considering if it’s maybe “time to go private.” A few questions to ask yourself: why is your account currently public (is it because that’s the default, or is there another reason)? Have you run into issues with strangers online before? Remember, having a “private” account is your first line of defense: without easy access to images of you, it’s much harder for a scammer to create photoshopped nudes of you. If you do have private accounts, though, it’s also critical that you approve followers with caution. Most social media users rely on a number of different “signals” to determine if and when to approve a follower; a common one is looking to see how many friends you and your prospective follower already have in-common. While these are good ways to evaluate followers, the best way is to ensure that 1) you know the person, and 2) you know that that’s their account (not sure? Just text them: “Hey is this u?”). Some scammers will use fake profile pictures and bios to make it seem like they’re in your age group, or go to your school. Don’t feel “compelled” to allow them to follow you! Especially if you don’t know the requester, think twice before you “Accept.”
Okay, so that’s what you should do to try to avoid photoshopped nudes…but what do you do if it happens? First and foremost, do not panic. As terrifying as the situation may feel, not everything is out of your control. You’ll likely receive a message from the scammer, alerting you to the potential threat of the photoshopped nudes. Do not respond and do not engage. Many scammers are looking for a response — waiting for you to panic — and hoping to take advantage of that. Don’t let them. Immediately block them, and report the account, clearly citing the threat it poses (if you can, take screenshots of the messages they’ve sent you). You can also deactivate your account; by getting “off the map,” so to speak, you can incentivize a scammer to move on. Of course, there’s still a chance, despite these best efforts, that a scammer will release/post your photoshopped nudes. If and when this happens, I encourage you to get ahead of the message: share with your followers that “a criminal is trying to target me with fake pictures, so please ignore them if you receive any.” In the moment, saying something like that can feel so embarrassing — and it can seem like that moment will never end — but it will, I promise.
Again, thank you all so much for reading this post. To anyone tackling photoshopped nudes: our entire Ask Trish community is sending you a lot of strength, and the knowledge that you are so much bigger and more important than a scam. 💙 To the folks following along, again, your engagement has been so valuable, and I’m grateful for it.
But don’t let the engagement end here: if there’s a related — or completely unrelated — question about the internet on your mind, don’t hesitate to share your note, question, or thoughts here. Your topic might be the focus of an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Remember, you’re almost definitely not the only person wondering about the issue, whatever it is, so ask away — nothing is off limits! And when you see an Ask Trish video you like, like and share it! 💙 Together, we can spread a little #InternetPositivity, one person at a time.
See you all next week,