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The facts of life for teens: Privacy and sexting

When it comes to privacy, the best approach for sexting is the same as for any other activity: don’t put it online unless you’re OK with everyone seeing it from your grandmother to your classmates to a stranger halfway around the world.

Remember, your control over what’s on the internet stops with the “send” key – once you hit it, it’s gone.

What is sexting?

Sexting involves sending sexual messages and images to someone else – for example, by emailing or using an app or a video chat platform to send a revealing selfie.

What are the privacy risks associated with sexting?

For some, sexting can feel safe when it’s done alone, in the privacy, comfort and security of your own bedroom. But the reality is that sexting amounts to putting your photo on the school billboard.

Even if you send it to someone you trust who you think will keep it private, once you send it, it is out of your control. Same with texts – you can’t take them back. The person you share it with can always share it with others. Your image and text can be copied, pasted and transmitted anywhere else on the Internet within minutes of you sending it. Sometimes they can be saved onto hard drives, printed out or e-mailed to others.

You can be setting yourself up for emotional distress or reputational damage if the friend you send it to becomes a vindictive ex-friend, or they turn out to be less trustworthy than you thought. One Canadian teen was blackmailed by a man in another country after posing naked on her webcam for him. He posted the images online and shared the photos with her classmates every time she moved to a new school in an attempt to escape cyberbullying.

Should a device with your sexts – even ones you ultimately decided not to share – get hacked or stolen, there’s no telling whose hands your deeply personal messages and photos might fall into.

Tips to remember

If it’s not something you want to share with the world, don’t take the picture – your device could be hacked and the picture stolen. If you do, don’t share it with anyone. Everything you post or send electronically could become public.

Never do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. It’s always OK to say no. Don’t pressure anyone else to share naked selfies.

If one of your peers shares a naked selfie or other kind of sext with you, keep it private – don’t share it with anyone else. Deleting it will help ensure that it doesn’t accidentally fall into other hands.

If you receive a sext from one of your peers that you didn’t ask for, delete it. Tell the person who sent it not to send any more and block them if they do. You should speak with a trusted adult if the person keeps sending sexts after you asked them not to.

If an adult, or someone you don’t know personally, shares a naked selfie or other kind of sext with you, tell a trusted adult. Don’t respond to requests that you send one back.

Always get consent before sharing pictures of other people online – sexually explicit or not.

Sextortion, like any kind of blackmail, is against the law. The people doing it are counting on you to be too embarrassed to tell authorities. It is always best to refuse to give in to threats. Keep the correspondence as evidence of the threat and talk to a trusted adult.

If someone shares a private image of you without your consent, the Government of Canada has information about where you can find help.

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