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Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

Emma Kiernan, whose 'Boob-gate' photo came to the attention of a local newspaper while running for her town council

Emma Kiernan, whose 'Boob-gate' photo came to the attention of a local newspaper while running for her town council

Selfies can take a life of their own

Selfies can take a life of their own

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Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

Jennifer Lawrence is among a slew of celebrities who have had private photos leaked online this week. But it's not just the stars who are vulnerable. It could be you tomorrow. John Meagher reports.

Emma Kiernan was a Fine Gael councillor in Newbridge, Co Kildare, from 2009 until May of this year. She now works in a senior role for a multinational IT company. By any reckoning, the 33-year-old has a formidable CV.

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Selfies can take a life of their own

Selfies can take a life of their own

Selfies can take a life of their own

Yet, for the past five years, she has had to contend with an embarrassing photo of her that first surfaced when she stood for election.

The snapshot shows a female friend playfully "grabbing" her breasts and was taken at a 30th birthday party some years before. It was clearly an unguarded moment of hilarity among good friends. The picture, which had been posted to Facebook (not by Emma), was brought to the attention of a local newspaper in a most underhand fashion. The floodgates opened - and rather than having to deal with questions about her political views or her vision for the locality, she found herself having to contend with what the media had christened "Boob-gate".

Even today, the photo can be found online in a matter of seconds. It's the first item that appears on a Google Image search. Elsewhere, there are reams of articles that focus on the picture and on the young politician's response to it. Even the headlines couldn't avoid mention of the image: "Now Emma has some real issues to get off her chest" screamed one in the days after her election.

Today, keen to focus on motherhood and a career away from politics, Emma Kiernan does not wish to discuss the ramifications of the fateful photograph any further. Her journalist sister Joanna says she is keen to draw a line under the episode.

But with the image likely to be online for perpetuity - and among the results even when it's Joanna's name that is entered into a search engine - will she truly be able to escape its reach?

It is a question that has been thrown into sharp relief this week with the news that private photos of female celebrities, including some 60 naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, have been leaked online.

That the photos were hacked from smartphones poses questions about how secure our seemingly private photos, text messages and emails really are - and how damaging to our image they would be if they managed to get into the public domain.

But for a generation which shares so much of its life on social media, it's not necessarily a question of being hacked, but how much of their own private images they are willing to post to Facebook or Instagram in the mistaken belief that it's just their "friends" who are seeing them. It's also a question of how willing they are to allow themselves to be photographed in potentially embarrassing situations that can end up on the farthest reaches of the internet.

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Emma Kiernan, whose 'Boob-gate' photo came to the attention of a local newspaper while running for her town council

Emma Kiernan, whose 'Boob-gate' photo came to the attention of a local newspaper while running for her town council

Emma Kiernan, whose 'Boob-gate' photo came to the attention of a local newspaper while running for her town council

Psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, who specialises in parent-child counselling, says young teens are especially vulnerable. "They are living for the moment and they often don't understand how permanent the internet can be," she says.

"They might post a risqué picture on Snapchat and think it will just disappear in seconds, but that's not always the case. Screengrabs can ensure that images don't just vanish."

Getting across the permanency of the internet to pre-teen children can be difficult, but it's a message that is essential especially with the findings this week that four out of every 10 children lie about their age online. And they're starting to engage with social media at an ever younger age. The vast majority of Irish children are engaging with social media, according to report author Brian O'Neill of the Dublin Institute of Education.

"Young people need support from their parents, teachers as well as from industry," he says. "However, they also have to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviour online.

'We also know," he adds, "that young people are exposed to and frequently upset by seeing unsuitable, sometimes frightening and potentially harmful content."

Joanna Fortune says today's tech-oriented teens are quickly cottoning on to the online dangers, but can find themselves in environments where they have no control over how their image is portrayed online.

"A very real concern for older teens," she says, "is being photographed or filmed without their content or knowledge and then those photos or footage is posted online. That can be extremely damaging for all kinds of reasons, including cyber-bullying. The uncompromising pictures on a friend's Facebook page can come back to haunt them too."

Sometimes, photos and videos can take on a life of their own: "Unfortunately, there have been several cases in Ireland in recent years in which teens have been filmed in destructive scenarios and the footage has ended up on YouTube."

Last year, two Irish female teens unwittingly found themselves going viral: one, aged 17, had been filmed allegedly performing a sex act at the Eminem concert at Slane, while the other, also 17, was shown to be in an inebriated state in late-night Dublin pizza parlour.

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Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

Sixty naked images of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence have been leaked online

The former - dubbed "Slane Girl" - was the subject of media interest around the world. Both young women were clearly identifiable on social media, much to the concerns of commentators who worried about their ability to cope with the unexpected, and unwanted, attention. The latter was subsequently given the sobriquet "KPMG Girl", in reference to her father, a senior executive at the auditing firm, whom she had named.

But it's not just young people who've had one too many drinks who may come to rue their brush with online infame. Joanna Fortune says she has become alarmed by the amount of highly inappropriate material that their parents are innocently posting online.

"You get parents who post photos of their children in the bath to Facebook and they think it's just their friends who get to see them. If they haven't protected their account, there's a chance that such sweet, innocent images and videos could end up being shared by thousands of strangers.

"Many parents aren't as wise to the dangers of failing to protect their online settings as their children are and they seem to be unaware that the material they post online is a permanent digital footprint.

'It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to realise how potentially dangerous it can be if the photographs are geo-tagged, or if there are ways in which their children could be easily identified, such as the school crest of the uniform their children are wearing.

I don't want to scaremonger, but people really should think long and hard about what they're posting online so willingly."

In an ironic role reversal, Fortune is finding that when she runs workshops for teens in schools, it's the children who are "extremely annoyed" about what their parents are posting online and not the other way around.

"They don't like it when their parents post pictures of them on social media without their consent," she says. "What might seem cute now may not be a few years down the line and they are learning that stuff their parents put up 10 years ago is still there and always will be."

The advent of social media and camera-ready smartphones over the past decade has done much to appeal to the vanity in all of us, even if some seem more obsessed with documenting every aspect of their lives than others.

From a seemingly unending selfie-craze to Twitter posts that reveal a constant need for validation and on to charity stunts that are often more about self-aggrandisement than actual good-doing, the fear of being misunderstood and pilloried is greater than ever.

Indo Review


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