NY AG warns of revenge porn increase amid COVID-19 online dating

New Yorkers that are seeking love online or engaging in long-distance relationships amid the coronavirus pandemic are at an extremely high risk of being victimized by revenge porn, New York State Attorney General Letitia James warned Wednesday.

“As New Yorkers practice social distancing in response to the … public health crisis, an increased number of individuals are engaging in intimate conversations with distanced partners with webcams and video chat apps, or are meeting new partners online and dating virtually,” a news release sent from James’s office states.

“Unfortunately, some users have chosen to take screenshots or recordings of their partners without their knowledge or consent and are then threatening disclosure of these intimate images — an act commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’ — sometimes even forcing partners to comply with certain demands.”

Revenge porn — or the non-consensual dissemination or publication of an intimate image with intent to harm a person — was already a pervasive issue in a digital age well before the pandemic but the health crisis has created a plethora of opportunities for bad actors, James said.

“Since New York, and much of the country, issued stay-at-home orders in March, many dating sites have seen a significant increase in the number of messages sent, and some video chat apps have reported an increase in usage of over 70 percent across platforms,” the news release explains.

“This increase in video chats has come with an increase in intimate images shared as well. While these images may be intended for just a single partner, too often that person may take a screenshot or record the images by using a second device.”

James’s office shared a series of tips New Yorkers can use to keep themselves safe online. People who want to share intimate images should exclude their face from the photo and any identifying features, such as unique tattoos or birthmarks, and anything in the background of the image that could reveal personal information.

Further, people are encouraged to remove any personal information from their dating profiles, such as email addresses or handles to various social media accounts.

“Some users even create separate email addresses or social media accounts to use only with dating profiles,” James’s office said.

Finally, online daters should look for safety features in the apps they use including the ability to delete images or chats from a recipient’s messages, unsend options and warnings if screenshots are taken, the news release said.

“Revenge porn is a vicious form of humiliation and control that disproportionately affects women, and we will continue to fight this cruel form of degradation in New York state,” James wrote in a statement.

“As New Yorkers continue to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge all who are sharing intimate and private pictures to follow these tips to protect themselves. We also warn anyone thinking of sharing revenge porn and exploiting their partners to think twice, as we will work with local law enforcement to prosecute all individuals engaging in the illegal act to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last year, following a nearly two-year-long campaign by The Post, New York State finally outlawed revenge porn in a bill that also allows victims to seek a court order demanding websites remove intimate images — a provision not seen in any other legislation across the country.

People who’ve been victimized by revenge porn are urged to call 911 or visit their local police station. They can also get help through the non-profits Sanctuary for Families and Safe Horizon.

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