Social media & body-shaming: why the public needs protection

A lot of us use Snapchat and other social media platforms daily (source: Adam Przezdziek)

by Caragh Medlicott

It is undeniable that social media is a huge part of modern society. With the rise of smart phones, most people are active every day on multiple platforms. From Facebook and Twitter, to Instagram and Snapchat, we are constantly updating others with the day-to-day happenings of our lives. As with everything in this world, social media has its pros and cons. I’d like to say upfront I am not for one second trying to claim social media is in fact the devil incarnate (indigital?). It facilitates many wonderful things; whether that’s being able to stay in contact with a friend across the world or as a means of building communities for marginalised groups (such as LGBT folk). Interactive tools, such as hashtags, can actually play a part in the campaign for social change (with everything from #blacklivesmatter to #yesallwomen). And last but not least, who could forget the important role social media plays in the distribution of ‘spicy’ memes? There is, however, an unfortunate flip side to all of this.

It’s sad but true that for every person innocently using social media in a positive way, there is another person who has set out to do the exact opposite (and probably started an argument in the comments section too…) One of the big issues with social media is that the problems which arise are not always rooted in bullying or out-right morally bad behaviour. Often people can be hurtful in a misleading attempt to gain attention online. Many people are all too happy to laugh at another’s expense so long as the likes come rolling in. Are these people evil? For the most part, of course not! However, there are times when this type of behaviour oversteps the mark.

Such a case is that of 29 year old model Dani Marthers who has been criminally charged by an LA judge with ‘the intent to invade privacy’. This sentence came after Marthers uploaded a picture of an elderly woman – who was in the nude in a gym locker room – to her Snapchat story. The image was taken without consent, shared with Marthers’ numerous followers on Snapchat, and distastefully captioned – ‘If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either’. And here we see how Snapchat and other such platforms can unfortunately become devices for body-shaming and negativity.

Marthers has since apologised for her actions and said that she does know ‘body shaming is wrong’. While you have to question where this sentiment was when Marthers thought it was a-okay to take and share an indecent picture of a woman, simply because she had the audacity to want to keep fit, clean afterwards and be old while doing so. I can nonetheless accept that people make mistakes and, particularly where social media is concerned, have a tendency to act without thinking. This considered then, was Mathers sentencing a little harsh? She faces up to six months in jail, as well as a $1,000 fine (she’s also understandably been banned from all branches of LA Fitness). I’m inclined to say that this ruling while firm, is indeed fair.

The image Marthers shared will probably exist in the depths of the internet for a long time. This considered in addition to the serious negative consequences the sharing of such a photo can have on a person, make legal rulings such as this one not only necessary, but crucial. So long as we exist in a world where the internet and social media are dominant forces, privacy laws are essential to protect individuals. They are needed to both deter people from inappropriate behaviour and to punish those who do cross the line.

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