Actor Prithviraj, who makes a cameo appearance, says, ‘Never expose your privacy on the internet. Don’t keep private pictures stored in your smartphone.’

This short film by Kerala Police tells you about dangers of posting private pics onlinePrithviraj Sukumaran/Screengrab from short film 'Viral'
news Technology Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - 14:57

A new short film produced and published by the Kerala Police explores an issue that has come up in the news frequently over the last couple of weeks thanks to a myriad variety of #MeToo stories coming out: internet safety and, in particular, the danger of sending nude pictures online, even to trusted partners or lovers.

Viral, which has been viewed over 110K times on the Kerala Police’s Facebook page and shared by over 2,800 Facebook users, features a woman, played by Shradha Babu, talking on the phone to her lover Abhi in a dark room at around 11.20 pm. As Abhi wheedles and coaxes her into taking off her clothes while on a video call with him by saying that he will never ask for such a thing again, and promising that it would only be seen by him and her, the camera repeatedly pans to a spider weaving a web in the corner of the room, to denote how he’s slowly, surely trapping his prey in a carefully woven web. When she agrees to his request after much persuasion, the phone screen immediately cuts to an image of hundreds of red-tinged eyes, meant to denote the legions of people worldwide who had now seen the video.

The film ends with a short cameo appearance by actor Prithviraj Sukumaran, who says, “Never expose your privacy on the internet. Don’t keep private pictures stored in your smartphone. Any app can be hacked no matter how strongly it is secured. Do you also want to go “viral” [like the girl in the video]? The decision is yours.”

Manoj Abraham IPS, Inspector General of Police, Thiruvanthapuram, who conceptualised the video along with the Kerala Police social media team, says that it’s a much-needed effort given the online climate today. “There are a lot of cases coming up where video sharing is happening between people, and then after the relationship breaks down, the videos are put up on porn sites and all kinds of things. The concept of ‘revenge porn’ [the vengeful practice of publishing an ex-partner’s intimate pictures online after a break-up or romantic split] has become rampant.”

‘Revenge porn’ has become such a pressing problem in India that in June 2018, the Ministry of Women and Child Development decided to start a portal that it hopes will serve as an online weapon to fight an array of illegal sexual content online, including, they explicitly mention, child pornography and revenge porn.

Manoj IPS continues to tell us about the unique difficulty of fully addressing this problem once the pictures make it online. “[Women are] sharing a lot of videos and photographs with their boyfriends [when they’re in a relationship]. At that time, you really can’t go intervene because there is no crime, it is between two individuals. Later on, they come with complaints and it’s really difficult to get it deleted because we have no control over a lot of these foreign sites. Porn sites are all hosted abroad, so it’s very difficult after that, it’s also very time consuming for us, because these videos would have been shared multiple times.

“So we want to spread the awareness that initially also you have to be careful in what you’re sharing. You should never share intimate content online.”

“In fact,” he elaborates, “it’s not even about going ahead and sharing it on an online platform. Basically, we say don’t take [or store] anything on any digital device. Not even for yourself, forget about sharing. Don’t keep it even on your mobile. Because if you give it for repair, or it gets stolen, or you lose it somewhere, then also it can become a problem.” He also points out that no digital device is ever entirely free from the threat of hacking.

He says that there are many cases of young or unmarried girls and women coming to the police with such cases in Kerala, but that the police tend not to register a case so that the woman’s identity is protected. They instead bring in the men concerned and question them, and try to contact the websites and platforms and get the videos taken down, but given the nature of the internet and of sharing on foreign-hosted porn sites, it’s nearly impossible to get them entirely removed.

Viral, Manoj says, is meant to target youngsters who use online platforms with particular ease and familiarity, which is why they decided to opt for a video message instead of a text-based one. They want to send out the message that in the case of intimate pictures and videos, prevention is better than cure, and that it’s better not to take any such pictures or videos at all, rather than facing the impossible task of removing such content from the internet.

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