Japanese Yaoi Fandom Culture and its Vulnerabilities to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws

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This blog will explore the cultural, social and symbolic significance the Japanese Yaoi fandom culture has played for its female audience. I will examine the way in which the difference in cultural normative frameworks between the Japanese culture and western culture renders Yaoi vulnerable to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws. The purpose of this blog is to reveal the ideologies that underpin the extension of these laws to Yaoi and the way in which they work to strategically censor certain forms of expression deemed inappropriate according to socially constructed moral standards. Consequently, Yaoi is deemed as an inappropriate form of expression as it threatens socially constructed conceptions of childhood innocence and asexuality.

Introduction to YAOI (no climax, no point, no meaning)

Since World War II and with the rise of the Internet revolution, Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga (comics) have attracted rapid growth and prosperity through their attainment of national and international recognition. One particular genre of the Japanese art forms, which is quite interesting and significantly popular amongst young women, is YaoiYaoi emerged in the 1980s and  actually focuses on the romantic and homoerotic sexual relationships between young, beautiful boys and men (shock horror to our western standards). Yaoi is more sexually explicit (depicting fellatio and anal intercourse), and is easily accessible throughout Japan, with a primary target of young women and teenage girls. While images of Yaoi may give off the impression that its simply a cartoon version of porn, the truth is that the genre has become an important tool of self-expression and liberation for most young female fans.

However, as you can imagine, Yaoi has been controversial in Western countries for its depictions of young males and underage boys in sexualised contexts. The situation in Western countries is different, as the discourse of ‘what about the children’ permeates pretty much every sector of the society. So such homoerotic narratives are highly segregated and excluded from comic books, which are exclusively regarded as a children’s medium (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.96).  Such representations are aligned with child abuse material and child pornography, creating the assumption that material like Yaoi, will harm children. Consequently, these fictional representations have attracted legal sanctions and have been the target of censorship in Western countries, particularly in Australia, where such material is expressly prohibited and labeled as ‘child pornography’. According to Mark McLelland (2011, p.467), such legal prohibitions are unjustified as they ‘not only [foreclose] the fantasy lives of young Australian fans, but [they] also [harm] them by aligning them with paedophile networks’ and silencing their self-expression.

Yaoi’s Significance in the Expression of Young Women’s Sexual Culture

Interestingly, Yaoi attracts a large online community consisting of young heterosexual women and girls, who produce, consume and disseminate purely fictional accounts of love and sex between young males. The genre is arguably a feminist enterprise as it emerged in the 1980s ‘as a reaction against the contrived and formulaic heterosexual love stories marketed at a female audience,’ which aimed to condition femininity and the expression 2af87352b32b9a19e39b53dc58aa1db6of female desire (McLelland 2005, p.67). As mainstream entertainment failed — and in my opinion,continues to fail —to adequately serve the sexual interests of women, arguably, women had to resort to Yaoi because they could not enjoy fantasies tailored to their desires if they were expressed through stories grounded in hegemonic codes of masculinist patriarchy. This is because patriarchal norms ‘often [do] not allow girls to comfortably express sexuality such that some adopt Freudian penis-envy’ (Williams 2015) and try to gain access to the ‘phallus’ (Nagaike 2003).

Consequently, Japanese women used Yaoi as a form of empowerment because male homosexuality was symbolically understood to be a beautiful and pure form of romance (Wood 2006, p.395). As Akiko Hori (2013) explains, this is because ‘a fictional romantic relationship between equal partners is much more likely to…be plausible to, female readers and creators if the relationship is between two men.’ If you also notice the characters depicted in Yaoi, they tend to be depicted with androgynous physical features. This is an important stylistic technique in Yaoi as it invites a broader range of readings from the texts and allows women to stimulate and negotiate their own romantic and sexual fantasies that portray more equally grounding relationships. Thus, the exploration of inner sexual desires through male homosexuality allows women to reconfigure and adopt male subjectivities in a safer and more liberating environment, enabling them to develop an independent fantasy life outside the confines of patriarchal limits (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). For example Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) found that because the sexual encounters only involve men, female Yaoi fans felt ‘freed from the position of always being the ‘done to’, and are able to take on the viewpoint of the ‘doer’” (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87). Further, as there is an absence of female bodies, Yaoi makes it safer for women to explore sexual violence that are usually performed with women as targets as a means to undermine them. As Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) continued, ‘if it is men depicted [in rape scenes], then they cannot get pregnant, lose their virginity, or become unsuited for marriage’. Thus, the removal of the ‘femme avatar’, allows greater freedom of sexual imagination (Camper, unknown), and enables women to distance themselves from ‘their shameless sexual ecstasy’ (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87).

Thus, while on the surface Yaoi simply looks like another form of ‘porn material’ through its depiction of sex between young males and minors, Yaoi is in fact, a highly self-critical and transgressive genre, which provides a supportive space to deconstruct and challenge patriarchal normative notions surrounding gender, sexuality and male-female power relations (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). Yaoi opens up a new world dictated by equal social relations, which is foreign to women – even in the 21st century. Such texts are important as they contribute to changing the deeply rooted internalised beliefs, which perpetuate inequality in gender and sexual relations.

Yaoi’s Position in Japan & Australia’s Legal Landscape

Despite its social contribution and its ability to foster a sense of solidarity amongst its young female fans, the foreign cultural origin of Yaoi conflicts with the generalised western anxiety towards the relationship between media and children. While Japan has a more conservative ideological attitude towards gender relations and homosexuality, the nation’s mediascape allows a more fluid and liberal exploration of ideas as it promotes a social and commercial space for queer and feminist stylisation (Williams, 2015).

Nevertheless, Japan’s Criminal Code does criminalise the sale and distribution of ‘obscene material’. In the early 20th century, the objects of censor for ‘obscene material’ adopted a traditional formalistic approach, which prohibited portrayals of adult genitals and pubic hair. As Zanghellini (2009, p.162) explains, this approach ‘created the conditions for the emergence of underage sex and nudity as a theme in erotic manga and anime’ in the 1950s and 1960s. After all, the issue of pubic hair and adult genitalia was not an issue with pre-pubescent children, nor were there any legal sanctions for depicting sexualised representations of children. While the definition of ‘obscene material’ was replaced in the 1980s to broadly include material on the basis of ‘the overall degree of raunchiness and extent of sexual imagery’ (Zanghellini 2009, p.164), the constitutional provision in the Code protecting freedom of expression nevertheless protects material such as Yaoi (Zanghellini 2009, p.160). Thus fictional representations of children —as opposed to actual children— are protected under the Criminal Code.

However, as Michael Lev (1997) claimed, ‘by Western standards, Japan appears unique for condoning public displays of raw sexual imagery and for blurring the lines between adult and child pornography’, with the depictions of youthful male bodies simply being downplayed ‘as an object for the erotic gaze’ (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). This western anxiety of the need to protect childhood innocence and purity is not an old phenomenon. After all, the depiction of young beautiful boys was a prominent feature of classical and Renaissance art. What was once considered beauty and ‘art,’ has now been redefined as ‘child pornography’ and pedophilia by political and social discourses. According to Alan Hunt, the cultural image of the ‘child’ has emerged because ‘risk assessment’ and ‘moral management’ has become a structural feature of late modernity (McLelland 2011, p.469). Now, individuals are expected to be more responsible towards the self and society, and engage in the act of self-moralisation as a means to avoid risk.

As a result of the moralisation of risk, there is ‘a proliferation of…bureaucratic regulation in the everyday world’ and ‘an expansion of the responsibilities that burden citizens in a way that reinforces and even multiplies the regulatory impact’ (Alan Hunt quoted in McLelland 2011, p.469). The need to preserve ‘childhood purity’ is a clear example of this ‘risk anxiety’ and has particularly grown in the age of the Internet and media technologies. As a result of this new breed of social anxiety, the activities surrounding Yaoi fandom is deemed as ‘risky’, which has prompted the Australian government to take stronger measures in ensuring the protection of children from harm.

In Australia, all sexual representations of minors (under the age of 18) in any medium are illegal. For example, under section 91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), ‘child abuse’ material includes material depicting a person who is, or appears to be, a child as a victim of physical abuse or engaged in a sexual pose or activity. It also includes the private parts of a person who is, or appears to be a child. Section 91H of the same Act grounds this definition by making it clear that offending material includes ‘any film, photograph, print or otherwise [the] mak[ing] child abuse material’. Similarly, section 473.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) defines ‘child pornography material’ as material that depicts a person, or a representation of a person, who is, or appears to be, under 18 years of age and who is engaged in or appears to be engaged in sexual activity.

It goes without saying that child abuse is a heinous crime and thus such laws are extremely important. However, unlike other Western countries—such as America and the UK— these are extremely expansive laws, which is problematic. These definitions have created a broad category of ‘child pornography’ as it not only includes material depicting harm to real children, but it also extends the definition to purely fictional representations of characters who are or appear to be under-age in sexual contexts. This includes the mediums of animation, comics, art and text. In fact, in McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292, the accused was found guilty under s 91H(3) of the Act, for possessing illegal material depicting Bart and Lisa from The Simpsons engaged in sexual interactions. As Justice Adams held at paragraph 41, ‘the word ‘person’ included fictional or imaginary characters and the mere fact that the figure depicted departed from a realistic representation in some respects of a human being did not mean that such a figure was not a ‘person’’. This decision confirms that Yaoi producers and consumers are vulnerable to prosecution, as material expressly or impliedly depicting characters who ‘appear underage’ (which is usually the case in Yaoi) in a sexual context is illegal. Thus  these laws not only target adult pedophiles dealing in representations of actual children, but it also inadvertently criminalises the activities of female Yaoi fans.

While such laws have been justified by governments for minimising the risk of inappropriate tendencies towards children and fuelling child abuse by potential abusers, such justifications are not conclusively supported by empirical research (The Conversation, 2014). This is particularly evident in the context of Yaoi, where there is nothing to suggest that young Yaoi female fans have connections with pedophile networks, or, indeed, that actual pedophiles are interested ‘in these highly scripted and aestheticised accounts of the sexual exploits of beautiful boys’ (McLelland 2011, p.472). Nor are minors objectified in the same manner actual children who are victims to real abuse can be. Thus, considering the youthful nature of Yaoi fans, and the central role it has played in their emotional and sexual development, such laws seem unwarranted. Especially considering it would naturally be expected of young teenagers to explore sexualised representations of characters that share similar ages. It would be more concerning if youth were being exposed to sexualised representations of much older adults.

As a result, these laws could be more harmful as they unfairly silence adolescents and deprive them of freely exploring and expressing their transgressive sexual fantasies in a secure, safe and supportive environment. Sexual fantasy and explorations of gender expression is completely normal and crucial to development of sexual identities for adolescents. Despite the normalcy of such activities, Australian law continues to prevent any form of sexual imagination for adolescents. As Judith Levine (quoted in McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.35) writes, according to the law, ‘young people have no legitimate claim to sexual expression, desires, or identities’. Instead, such paternalistic laws dictate the correct forms of intimate relationships we are allowed to keep, and when we are allowed to enjoy them. Furthermore, negatively associating young Yaoi fans with pedophilia and criminal activity —when no actual person is harmed —further perpetuates this harm, and alienates them by stigmatising their innocent conduct. Thus, while Australian policymakers have used such laws to protect children, they are inadvertently harming adolescents.

Furthermore, the stylised artistic nature of the two-dimensional Yaoi visual representations reflect how there is no intention by consumers and producers to depict actual children and represent reality. As Mark McLelland (2011, p.474) has identified, it is precisely the lack of relationship between the online sexual fantasy spaces and their offline everyday sexual interests that fans describe as liberating. In fact, such fantasies serve as ‘idealised self-images’ as they are mere symbolic extensions of the consumers and producers’ own identities. Ueno Chizuko goes further to describe the symbolic representation of beautiful boys as a ‘third sex’, as they are neither male nor female (McLelland 2005, p.21). The figurative transitory nature of Yaoi characters means that they have fluid symbolic identities, enabling them to adapt and apply to a diverse range of appropriations by women with a range of sexual orientations. Thus, Yaoi characters cannot be understood as ‘children’, ’male’ or ‘homosexual’; instead they represent a third gender, which is disconnected from the activities of actual male homosexuals or depictions of real children (McLelland 2005, p.21). However, despite such important functions of Yaoi, it is clear that Australia’s draconian laws reflect the government’s inability to understand and engage with such symbolic creative expressions and interpretations.

Conclusion

In closing, this discussion demonstrates the way in which Yaoi provides an empowering platform for young females to safely express their transgressive sexual desires, outside the confines of patriarchal discourse. It is clear that such laws are unjustified as there is no demonstrable relationship between the production and consumption of Yaoi, and harm to actual children. Instead, these laws simply criminalise a fandom culture and silence young females, which is more harmful. While many freedom of speech advocates maintain that such laws are a form of censorship, unfortunately, in Australia, we do not have rights protecting freedom of speech. Thus there is no recourse for Australians to challenge the legitimacy of these laws.

The only way such laws can be changed is through a change in social morals, attitudes and beliefs. However, even this seems too difficult in the context of Yaoi manga and anime for two main reasons: Firstly, mainstream public is ignorant to the symbolic functions genres such as Yaoi play for adolescents and; secondly, the western moralising discourse towards the need to protect the image of the ‘child’ has become so pervasive, that it has codified these beliefs into law and ideology, preventing any form of discussion or negotiation about the creative expression and symbolic interpretations of such representations. Thus, even if representations of child nudity are made purely in the name of art, social norms and homogenised moral discourses rob such representations of having artistic merit. However, hopefully, policy makers will recognise that such laws have no utility, and silencing adolescents may be counterintuitive and more harmful.

Reference List

Camper C, ‘Yaoi 101: Girls Love “Boy’s Love”, Wessesley Centers for Women, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://www.wcwonline.org/WRB-Issues/298&gt;

Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)

Fujimoto et al, Y 2004, ‘Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites and Male Androgynes’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.27, pp.76-117.

Hori, A 2013, ‘on the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination’, Transformative Works & Cultures, 2013, vol. 12.

Lev, M 1997, ‘In Japan, Schoolgirls Accepted as Porn Objects’, Chicago Tribune, 16 February, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-02- 16/news/9702160361_1_lewd-sailor-moon-human-sexuality>

McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292

McLelland, M 2005, ‘The World of Yaoi: The Internet, Censorship and the Global “Boys’ Love” Fandom’, The Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol.23, pp.61-77.

McLelland, M 2011, ‘Australia’s ‘child-abuse material’ legislation, internet regulation and the juridification of the imagination’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.15, no.5, pp.467-483.

McLelland, M & Yoo, S 2007, ‘The International Yaoi Boys’ Love Fandom and the Regulation of Virtual Child Pornography: The Implications of Current Legislation’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, vol.4, no.1, pp.93-104.

Mizoguchi, A 2003, ‘Male-male romance by and for women in Japan: A history and the sub genres of yaoi fictions’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.25, pp.49-75.

Nagaike, K 2003, ‘Perverse sexualities, perverse desires: Representations of female fantasies and yaoi manga as pornography directed at women’, U.S. — Japan Women’s  Journal, no.25, pp.76-103.

The Conversation, ‘When a drawing or cartoon image can land you in jail’, The Conversation, 27 October, viewed 21 October 2016, <https://theconversation.com/when-a-drawing-or-cartoon-image-can-land-you-in-jail-33418&gt;

Williams, A 2015, ‘Rethinking Yaoi on the Regional and Global Scale’, Intersections: Gender & Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, 37.

Wood, A 2006, ‘“Straight” Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic’, Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol.34, no.1/2, pp.394-414.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Underage Sex and Romance in Japanese Homoerotic Manga and Anime’, Social and Legal Studies, vol 8, no.2, pp.159-177.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Boys love’ in anime and manga: Japanese subculture production and its end users’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol.23, No.3, pp.279-294.

Teenage Sexting: The Role of Cultural & Legal Discourses In Fuelling Moral Panic as a Vehicle to Censor Teenage Sexual Agency

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This blog will explain the concept of “sexting” and examine the techniques employed by hegemonic cultural and legal discourses to vilify and pedagogically police the practice of “sexting” amongst teenagers (aged 12 to 18), as a means to protect social conceptions of childhood and adolescence innocence and asexuality. By framing “sexting” through the lens of child pornography, mainstream cultural and legal institutions adopt an alarmist, reductionist and moralistic discourse to fuel moral panic towards the practice of teenage “sexting”. This is used by cultural and legal actors as a censoring vehicle to strategically silence teenagers of sexual expression and deny them of their sexual agency.  Consequently, these hegemonic constructions of “sexting” lead to the moral determination of acceptable teenage sexual conduct by explicitly and implicitly censoring teenage conduct deemed socially inappropriate.

The importance of exploring this topic is linked to the goal of this blog, which is to disclose the hidden coded messages perpetuated by mainstream discourse and challenge individuals to look beyond what legal, media and educational institutions feed us, and instead deconstruct the hyperbolic messages of these institutions and how they shape our perceptions, understanding and world-view towards children and teenagers and their role as sexual agents. This topic is particularly relevant today as new digital media technologies will continue to evolve and shape teenage social behaviour. As these technologies,  give teenagers a platform to more easily express themselves, it is important to reveal discourses that may aim to silence and censor their digital expression.


The rapid integration of the internet and digital cellular technologies, such as the Smartphone, in our everyday lives has had a profound impact on social norms and practices. With the ability of the Smartphone to combine the functionality of phone calls, text-based interaction, internet browsing and digital video cameras, it is no wonder Smartphones have pervasively penetrated and transformed the presence and behaviours of audiences in public and private spaces. One such practice which has emerged since early 2000 with the advent of camera phones and smartphones is “sexting”.

The term “Sexting”, has emerged in reference to social relationships conducted by young people as a result of the rapid development and adoption of cellular and online digital information technologies. “Sexting” refers to the practice of an individual consensually producing and sharing sexually explicit photos and messages with another individual via his or her smartphone, the internet or social media. This is usually based on the trust and unspoken mutual understanding that the receiver of the image will act in good faith by keeping the image private from third parties. Indeed, with almost 75% of Australian teenagers (aged between 13 and 17) having access to a Smartphone and 92% of teenagers using the internet on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise that the self-generated practice of sending naked, semi-naked, or sexually explicit photos or messages via text message, email, Facebook, Instagram or other electronic forms of communication has become widely practiced by young adults and teenagers. In fact, in 2015, 50% of Australian teenage boys and girls used their mobile phones to send sexually explicit images of themselves. Similarly, a 2014 study found that 54% of American college students had produced and sent or received sexually explicit text messages and images when they were under the age of 18. These statistics demonstrate how common “sexting” has become amongst young people.

While adult “sexting” is widely accepted, and even encouraged amongst adults, it appears that mainstream discourse perpetuated by media, legal and educational institutions largely condemn teenage “sexting” due a number of concerns. Certain concerns relating to “sexting” are understandable. For example, there have been a number of reported cases, in which  “sexting” has been used as a weapon by third parties (i.e. classmates, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends) to humiliate and embarrass a young person through the unauthorised non-consensual distribution of that person’s ‘sexted’ image. Through the ease with which a smartphone can instantly disseminate a compromising image to the masses, it comes as no surprise that such distribution can result in the widespread circulation of the image amongst schools and communities without the permission of the young sexter.

Evidence from reported cases have indicated that teenagers who have their compromising photos circulating around the community can end up being ostracized, bullied, mocked and harassed by peers which leaves them feeling humiliated, anxious, guilty, ashamed, betrayed and suicidal.  As Alexandra Kushner (2013, p.283) found, “Peers often mock and torment the primary sexter about the photo or video through verbal and physical intimidation” which can lead to “some victims…skip[ping] classes and perform[ing] worse academically…[and] becom[ing] depressed”.

For example, in America, 13-year-old Hope Witsell, committed suicide in 2009, after an image she sent to her boyfriend of her breasts was distributed to students from six different schools. Similarly, 18-year-old, Jessica Logan committed suicide in 2009, after her ex-boyfriend distributed her naked photo to classmates. In a less severe but equally significant case, an Australian teenage girl experienced ongoing bullying after her sexually explicit photo went viral. In all three incidents, the victims were bullied, tormented and labelled derogatory terms such as “sluts” and “whores” for intimate acts that were committed privately in their personal relationships. These incidents demonstrate how “sexting” can lead to negative implications for young people when the trust between the sexter and the receiver is broken.

Indeed, these potential risks and harms can occur in both teenage “sexting” and adult “sexting”. Nevertheless, unlike adult “sexting”, teenage “sexting” has largely been cast in a negative light by media, educational and legal institutions.

For example, local and international news media coverage of sexting reveals the widespread perception that sexting is a significantly harmful practice, whichunspecified-1 teenagers only engage in due to their
out-of-control teenage hormones’, causing them to become ‘amoral’ and experience unhealthy and unsafe relationships. The occurrence of ‘sexting’ is described as an ‘epidemic’ and a ‘disturbing’ and ‘dangerous’ teenage ‘norm’, which causes “psychologically damaging” and ‘tragic’ consequences, such as sexual exploitation, withdrawal and suicide. Teenagers are also viewed as incapable of understanding the dangers of sexting as they are ‘stupid’ and not “brilliant at thinking through the consequences of their actions”.

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In fact, the Australian legal landscape is also screaming to teenagers that they do not understand the harmful consequences of sexting and thus should refrain from the practice by criminalising it under child pornography legislation. In Australia, all sexual representations of minors who are, or appear to be under the age of 18, engaged in a sexual pose or activity, in any medium (whether it be film, photograph, drawing, comic etc), is illegal. This also includes depictions of private parts of a person, who is, or appears to be a minor. Thus it is an offence to produce, possess, send, supply, transmit, publish, distribute, advertise or promote material depicting a minor engaged in a sexual pose or activity. Each of these offences carry significant penalties including maximum imprisonment of 15 years and registration as a sex offender. As a result, even though the activity of producing and sharing sexualised images through the use of communication devices can be consensual between people under the age of 18, the federal and state legislation nevertheless have made this practice of “sexting” illegal.

In fact, law enforcement bodies have used their discretion to convict teenagers who have engaged in “sexting”. For example, between 2008 and 2011, more than 450 child pornography charges were laid against young people aged between 10 and 17, including 113 charges of producing child pornography material. In 2011, The Age reported on the conviction of two victorian teenagers for possessing “sexted” images. Both teenagers were charged with child pornography offences and placed on the sex offender register for eight years. A number of American states with similar laws have also adopted this stance. For example, in Alabama, four middle school students were arrested for consensually exchanging nude photographs of themselves (Kushner 2013, p.285). While in some states this approach is slowly changing with greater recognition of the absurdity of criminalising teenagers as child pornographers, the criminalisation of teenagers nevertheless reflects the concern that teenagers must be protected from a practice which is considered to be sexually exploitative and harmful to teenagers and their development.

These concerns are further amplified in this Australian educational film resource created by the Australian Federal Police through the Internet Safety Program Initiative, ThinkUKnow. Designed for secondary school teachers and students, this video is shown in schools to educate teenagers about the dangers of “sexting”. In the video, the boy Megan sent a “sext” to, forwards the photo, which is then circulated widely to students in the school and class. The video represents “sexting” as a purely harmful practice by framing Megan’s conduct as the source of the ‘problem’. This message is amplified by the voiceover at the end of the video stating: “Think you know what happens to your images? Who will see them? how they will affect you? Think again.” This message is supported by the promotional summary of the video, which provides: “a teenage girl’s experience of taking an inappropriate image of herself and ‘sexting’ it to a boy in her class and the unintended consequences’.

News media bodies as well as legal and educational institutions are the significant players in the community which guide social discourse. These bodies have clearly created the dialogue that teenage “sexting” is a social issue, which must be addressed and prevented to protect teenagers from harm.

However, while certain concerns that “sexting” can cause harmful effects such as the unauthorised distribution of “sexts”, are valid, why are they only raised in relation to teenage sexters? After all, adult sexters can experience the same problems of unauthorised widespread circulation of sexually explicit photos, which can also cause shame and humiliation. Indeed, “revenge porn” is also a common issue amongst adults. So why are teenagers the prime target for such discourse? Are teenagers really incapable of partaking in the practice of “sexting”? Is “sexting” really that harmful and evil PURELY for teenagers? Are all teenagers who consensually send “sexts” truly being sexually exploited?

In my opinion, by projecting misinformed ‘truths’, mainstream discourse guided by legal, media and educational institutions is strategically censoring teenage sexual expression by causing a moral panic towards the practice of teenage “sexting” because it is viewed as a threat to social conceptions of childhood and adolescence. Indeed, as with any new technology-fuelled behaviour, a social moral panic emerges, whereby mainstream discourse instills and perpetuates a social anxiety or fear, that either our values, morals, lives, or essentially, the very fabric of our society is under threat. Whether it be the 17th century “panic” that rail travel at high speed would make it impossible for passengers to breathe, or the “panic” that violent video games will turn us into murderous psychopaths, it is clear moral panics have existed since the conception of innovation. So it comes as no surprise that a moral panic has emerged in relation to “sexting”.

Indeed, when the prevalence and the impact of sexting is closely examined, it becomes apparent that the claims that “sexting” is a “harmful and evil practice for teenagers” are exaggerated, distorted and wrongly-directed, resulting in the circulation of misconceived notions about teenage “sexting”. This misinformed discourse has essentially censored the sexual agency of minors in sexualised contexts, by producing three main myths. 

Myth No.1: All Incidents of Teenage “Sexting” are Harmful

Acts associated to “sexting” can lead to negative implications. However is this absolutist assertion that all ‘sexting’ incidents are harmful? Then the answer is no. Considering the significant number of teenagers involved in “sexting”, it seems far-fetched to say that ALL these incidents have been harmful. As Angelides (2013, p.668) asserts: “it is scarcely conceivable – and there is no evidence to suggest – that all such incidences have been…unsafe or have resulted in harm”. Mainstream discourse has also mistakenly drawn a direct link of causation between harm caused and the very act of consensually producing a “sext” and sharing it with another person. In most situation, “sexts” are shared between two people (who usually like each other or are in a relationship) based on the trust that the receiver of the image will keep the image private. “Sexting” that occurs in these situations are not harmful as they are consensual and private.

Furthermore, when harm does occur in a “sexting” situation, it is usually when the trust between the sexter and the receiver is breached and the sexter’s photo is wrongfully distributed by the receiver or a third party. As discussed above, the harm is further amplified through the subsequent behaviours of third parties who use the “sext” to humiliate and embarrass the sexter, which can result in the sexter experiencing ongoing bullying and cyber-bullying. Thus, it is not the act of actually producing a “sext” that is the harmful behaviour, it is the wrongful act of third parties. Ifunspecified third parties respect the sexter’s privacy and act in good faith, then no such harm would eventuate. Nevertheless, mainstream discourse continues to perpetuate the notion that teenagers who send “sexts” are engaging in harmful behaviour. This was seen in the NSW “sexting” educational video. The shame and distress Megan feels is clearly because of the unauthorised actions of the boy and therest of the students in disseminating the photo. Nevertheless, Megan’s consensual conduct is problematised, rather than the unauthorised dissemination of her image.  This was also seen in the American case of AH v State 949 So. 2d 234 . Here, the primary sexter and her boyfriend were prosecuted under child pornography laws and placed on the sex offenders registry for a sexually explicit image that was consensually and privately shared between the couple (Birkhold, 2013, p.924). Considering the picture remained private and it was part of the couple’s sexual relationship, no harm was committed as a result of the “sext”. Nevertheless, the young couple was prosecuted.

Considering the child pornography laws were initially drafted with the intention of preventing harm to children and teenagers from sexual exploitation and paedophilia, it is a cruel irony that these very subjects are also being harmed through criminalisation for private, consensual acts. By being registered as sex offenders and having child pornography offences on their records, teenagers will experience difficulties in gaining future employment and in other areas such as travelling overseas. Categorizing teenagers in the same group as paedophiles would ironically cause greater emotional and psychological harm. Thus the approach taken by legal institutions is confusing and seems counter-productive.

Therefore, not all “sexting” incidents are harmful. Sexting usually occurs consensually and privately in healthy relationships. Instead, this discourse which supports criminalisation of teenagers as a means to support them is ironically more harmful.

Myth No.2: Unlike Adults, Teenagers are Mentally Incapable of “Sexting”

Incorrect. Mainstream dialogue promoting the assumption that teenagers are immature, stupid and incapable of safely engaging in the practice of “sexting” have been challenged by extensive research, which has demonstrated that the cognitive capacities, abstract reasoning and decision-making abilities of many minors as young as 14 years of age are equal to those of adults (Angelides 2013, p.685). Additionally, a survey conducted by Cosmo Girl found that 75% of teenagers are aware that sending sexually suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences” and 79% of teenagers and young adults agreed that “one has to be aware that sexy messages and pictures/video may end up being seen by more than just the intended recipient(s)”. This demonstrates that teenagers are making informed decisions about their sexual expression and agency as they understand “sexting” is a risky activity which could potentially lead to negative implications when images are distributed without consent. Thus the assertion of misconceived notions that teenagers need protection through the law as they are incapable of determining their sexual agency, is wrong.

Myth No.3: “Sexting” Teenagers Are Obviously Engaging in Such Practice  Because They Have Unnatural Tendencies (Similar to Paedophiles of Course)

Once again, incorrect! Teenagers actively engage in “sexting” because is it a form of asserting sexual agency and sexual expression. Teenagers are not naive about their conduct; instead, research suggests they are aware of the consequences and enjoy engaging in “sexting”. For example, in the Cosmo Girl survey, 66% of teenage girls and 60% of teenage boys send “sexts” because they find it “fun or flirtatious”; 52% of teenage girls sent a “sext” as a ‘sexy present’ for their boyfriend; 34% of teenage girls send “sexts” to ‘feel sexy’. Both teenage boys and teenage girls agreed that they enjoyed “sexting” because it was flirty, exciting and hot. Interestingly, 67% of the teenagers acknowledged that “sexting” was ‘dangerous’, which reinforces the notion that contrary to mainstream discourse, teenagers are informed about the potential risks associated with ‘sexting”. As Lara Karaian (2012, p.66) contends, this reflects “the complex spirals of pleasure and danger that youth who sext not only experience but also appear to accept”. These studies discount the mental capacity and harm discourse that law relies on when denying teenagers their sexual expression and agency (Lara Karaian, 2012, p.66).


By busting these sexting myths, it’s clear that “sexting” is not always an entirely harmful practice. Teenagers understand the risks associated with the wrongful distribution of ‘sexted’ images and engage in this practice because it is a form of healthy sexual expression. So, why do these myths exist? In my opinion, legal, media and educational institutions have created a dialogue stimulating a moral panic, because teenage “sexting” is viewed as a threat to our socially constructed perceptions that children and adolescents are innocent, vulnerable, do not have sexual agency and are asexual beings. Thus the innocence and sexual development of children and adolescents must be protected. But why? Why must children and teenagers be asexual? Why can’t they have sexual agency? Why can’t children as young as 10 be sexually active? Why are their bodies censored? Why was once a Renaissance painting of a naked child considered ‘art’ but now considered child abuse material? Why can’t adults have consensual non-exploitative sexual relationships with minors? Why are these topics so taboo?

To me, all these controversial questions can be answered accordingly: this is what social normative discourse since late modernity has deemed to be appropriate for children and teenagers, as well as the rest of the community in the 21st century. Accordingly, children and teenagers are declared as asexual, innocent beings who lack sexual agency. Any activity or behaviour that challenges this causes social anxiety because it is a threat to the social normative framework. This perhaps explains why the legal framework regulating “sexting” is only concerned with the conduct of a sexter who produces and sends a photo, rather than the unauthorised harmful viral circulation of a sexter’s photo. Indeed, the explicit censorship of teenage digital sexual expression is evidenced by its legal classification of sexting as child pornography.

This normative paternalistic approach toward childhood and adolescent behaviour can be explained by Alan Hunt. According to Alan Hunt, the cultural image of the ‘child’ has emerged because ‘risk assessment’ and ‘moral management’ has become a structural feature of late modernity (McLelland 2011, p.469). Arguably, this is also applicable to teenagers. Now, individuals are expected to be more responsible towards the self and society, and engage in the act of self-moralisation as a means to avoid risk. As a result of the “moralisation of risk” discourse, there is ‘a proliferation of…bureaucratic regulation in the everyday world’ and ‘an expansion of the responsibilities that burden citizens in a way that reinforces and even multiplies the regulatory impact’ (Alan Hunt quoted in McLelland 2011, p.469). The need to preserve the “asexual adolescent” is a clear example of this ‘risk anxiety’ and has particularly grown in the age of the Internet and digital media technologies, whereby it has become easier to monitor and regulate teenage sexuality, which has led to the establishment of age-appropriate sexual behaviour.

This anxiety is further perpetuated by social and legal institutions adopting a freudian logic when addressing “sexting” cases in light of child pornography laws. According to Matthew Birkhold (2013, p.911), when charging teenagers as perpetrators of self-produced child pornography, society appear to have subconsciously internalised a Freudian logic. As he explains in relation to the judiciary, “many judges fear that juvenile sexting will jeopardize the development of a normal sexual life” for children who send and receive sexted images, resulting in society being compromised as a whole. This is attributed to the reasoning that by taking such photos, and prematurely treating him/herself as a sexual object, the young sexter is harming his/her sexual maturation and his/her ability to develop future healthy and affectionate relationships (Birkhold 2013, p.930). Thus the premature exposure to sexual content and treatment as a sexual object, results in “sexting” being viewed as an injurious activity that impedes on sexual maturation and civilising constructions of morality for the teenager. As this is seen as a negative impact upon a teenager’s path to “normal” psychosexual development, social institutions have taken a paternalistic approach by condemning the primary sexter and the receiver, for the private and consensual production and possession of a sexually explicit image (Birkhold 2013, p.924). Consequently, “sexting” is construed as exclusively negative in a narrative that defines the activity as dangerous and a serious social problem (Angelides 2013, p.667).


In closing, mainstream cultural and legal discourses have fuelled moral panic in relation to the activity of “sexting” as a vehicle to censor teenage sexual agency. My aim has not been to undermine youth sexual exploitation; of course, any form of sexual exploitation which involves a child or an adult is wrong and should be criminalised. However, my goal has been to challenge the notion of teenage “sexting” as a purely harmful practice. Studies have indicated that teenagers positively engage in the practice of “sexting” as a means to sexually express themselves and assert their sexual agency. However, teenagers are being censored from asserting their sexual rights as “teenage sexting” is perceived as a threat to social constructions of childhood and adolescence innocence and asexuality. Perhaps if the perceptions towards the agency of children and teenagers change, then it may be foreseeable to picture a reality in which it is accepted that minors have sexual agency and private, consensual “sexting” between healthy relationships is accepted as a normalised practice.


Reference List

Angelides, S 2013, ‘Technology, Hormones and Stupidity’: The Affective Politics of Teenage Sexting”, Sexualities, vol.16, no.5, pp.665-689.

Birkhold, M 2013, ‘Freud on the Court: Re-interpreting Sexting & Child Pornography Laws’, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, vo.23, no.2, pp.897-942.

Karaian, L 2012, ‘Lolita Speaks: ‘Sexting’, Teenage Girls and the Law’, Crime Media Culture, vol.8 no.1, pp.57-73.

Karaian, L 2014, ‘Policing ‘sexting’: Responsibilization, Respectability and Sexual Subjectivity in Child Protection/Crime Prevention Responses to Teenagers’ Digital Sexual Expression’, Theoretical Criminology, vol.18, no.3, pp.282-299.

Kushner, A 2013, ‘The Need for Sexting Law Reform: Appropriate Punishment for Teenage Behaviors’, University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, vol.16, pp.281-302.

McLelland, M 2011, ‘Australia’s ‘child-abuse material’ legislation, internet regulation and the juridification of the imagination’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.15, no.5, pp.467-483.

The Internet of Things

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The concept, “The Internet of Things” refers to the connection of devices with the internet. This can include pretty much any device – whether it’s your mobile phone, watch, washing machine, coffee maker or television, all these devices have the ability to talk to each other and be connected to the internet. Even smart homes exist now! In fact, there are currently more than 10 billion internet-connected devices and this number will keep rising. Sounds pretty crazy when you consider more than half the world’s population still is not connected to the internet yet our devices are.

Connecting devices online can have a number of benefits, the obvious benefit being that it simply makes life easy. For example, just imagine you have forgotten to turn the lights off at home but you’ve already left for work. Well, it’s no problem when you can easily switch them off through the tap of your phone. Or imagine your alarm clock goes off and notifies your coffee maker to start making coffee. Or what if television sends you a text to remind you that your favourite T.V. Show is about to come on. The possibilities are endless! In fact, my parents recently bought a ‘Smart fridge’, and I must say, it’s pretty smart. It has the ability to send my mum a notification when we are running low on any vegetables or fruits. So it’s quite handy in that sense.

However, while this sounds great and incredibly convenient, imagine the vulnerabilities you also expose yourself to if your entire life is pretty much “connected”. If you think about, if everything is connected, then it can also mean that everything can be easily hacked. As Rachel Arndt describes this dystopian situation:

“The hacked toilet’s lid could be opened and closed remotely, or its bidet function suddenly turned on, leading to “discomfort or distress to user”. The unsecure refrigerator allows hackers into the same network as a person’s computer, which they used to send spam.”

In fact, such hacks have already occurred – in late 2013 and early 2014, hackers got into smart TVs, one refrigerator and routers to send out spam. This is pretty scary as it leaves us more vulnerable and exposed to cyber-attacks on our personal lives. I mean, imagine if someone hacked into your smart home? This could potentially open a new wave of “breaking and entering”.
So while mobilising our devices through the same digital network provides great convenience and efficiency, it is also important to note that it can expose us to greater vulnerabilities. The more online and digitally connected you become, the greater the risk someone can easily tap into your network. As we become more digitally connected, it is important to be vigilant with our security to prevent, or at least minimise the risk of such hacks.

 

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Cyber-Warfare: ISIS vs Anonymous

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Cyber-Warfare refers to the politically motivated actions by a nation-state or international organisation to launch an attack with the intention of damaging or destructing information networks of another nation or group. As Simon Tisdall writes, cyber-warfare “typically involves the use of illegal exploitation methods on the internet, corruption or disruption of computer networks and software, hacking, computer forensics, and espionage.” It’s basically a cyber-battle over the internet, with the aim of destroying each side’s digital network and infrastructure.

One of the most recent examples of cyber warfare was when hacktivist group, Anonymous declared a war on the Islamic State. Following the terrorist attack on Paris in November 2015, Anonymous declared “war in Isis” by claiming that it would “launch the biggest operation ever against” it. Initially, the attacks started with shutting down the social media (such as Twitter) accounts and websites belonging to Islamic State leaders and those who support ISIS. For example, Anonymous reportedly removed more than 5500 Twitter accounts linked to Islamic State. Such action is helpful because ISIS supporters rely on social media and the internet to spread their messages and recruit more people. However, it has also been argued that this action can undermine and interfere with the work of authorities’ who are trying to combat ISIS. Nevertheless, in December 2015,  Anonymous claimed that through its efforts, it had managed to stop an ISIS attack in Italy. As you can imagine, the Islamic State has hit back claiming that it would strike back. So there you go, looks like World War III is on it’s way on the Internet.

While Anonymous’ attack on the Islamic State can be viewed as a positive because its aiming to curb terrorist attacks which affect millions of people, it should nevertheless be noted that cyber-warfare can also be a threat to society, if it’s done with the intention of harming people. As Simon Tisdall writes:

“Cyber-warfare attacks on military infrastructure, government and communications systems, and financial markets pose a rapidly growing but little understood threat to international security and could become a decisive weapon of choice in future conflicts between states.”

Thus cyber-warfare can be good and bad depending on who launches the attack and with what intention they launch the attack.

 

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Hacktivism – Cyber Criminals or Political Activists?

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 We now live in an age where our digital network typography is characterised as a distributed network whereby each individual – as an individual node in the system – has the power consume, produce, subvert and disrupt the network. This is what hacktivists such as Anonymous, Wikileaks and Lulz Security essentially do – they subvert, disrupt and hack into networks by gaining unauthorised information as a means to promote social and political aims. This is because hacktivists follow basic liberal principles that:

  • information should be free
  • there should be no secrets
  • There should be no authoritarian regimes

Due to their sophisticated ability to hack into systems which supposedly have the tightest security, these Hacktivism groups have collected an extensive amount of information about international corporations and governments. For example, in 2010, Wikileaks released a 2007 classified US military video depicting US soldiers indiscriminately killing and wounding a dozen of people -including children – in the Baghdad.

 

 

As you can imagine, corporations and governments aren’t happy about this as highly classified information can easily compromise their position and reputation. But is this necessarily a bad thing?
Well, the good think about Hacktivism is that it can help disclose the incriminating truths and secrets of government bodies and corporations. While organisations try to hide information from the public, hacktivists are able to tell the public the truth and hold government bodies and corporations to account. However, the downfall of hacktivism that it can threaten national security and breakdown international relations. Thus depending on how Hactivism is used and in what context, it can be positive, but it can also lead to negative implications.

 

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The Power of Hashtag Activism Transforming the Discourse on Domestic Violence

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With more than two women dying per week as a result of an intimate partner or family member, there is no doubt that domestic violence is an epidemic in Australia. This social issue has received significant media attention – whether it be through news media or or social media, the issue of domestic violence receives wide scope coverage. However, the scope and quality of coverage by different media mediums has had a significant impact on the way in which domestic violence is perceived and understood. In particular, news media has a crucial role in transmitting and shaping social norms and belief as well as ‘inform[ing] the perpetration of this violence, shap[ing] victims’ responses to victimisation, and influenc[ing] community responses to violence against women (McGregor 2010, p.15). However, studies have found that Australian news media fail to report incidents of domestic violence in an accurate manner, which can negatively undermine the experiences of victims. In contrast, social media has emerged as a platform for citizens and domestic violence victims to engage in Hashtag Activism as a means to challenge social beliefs perpetuated by traditional media and spread the awareness about the gravity of the issue. In this way, social media is a platform on which citizens can subvert the gender inequalities news media perpetuates through its news coverage.

Studies (Our Watch, 2015; Morgan, J & Politoff, V 2012; Carlyle, Slater and Chakroff, 2008) have identified a number of negative characteristics in the way in which news organisations report domestic violence and contribute to misconceived notions about the issue. These include:

  • ‘Events-based’ News Reporting: News reports on domestic violence primarily focus on individual incidents located at specific places and times and fail to provide statistics and expert analysis to address the extent of this social problem. Such coverage falsely gives the impression that domestic violence is not real crime; instead, it is an individual, private responsibility as opposed to a social responsibility, and thus does not warrant State intervention.
  • Misrepresenting the Realities of Domestic Violence: Majority of news reports on domestic violence do not specify if there was a current or pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and victim and thus  fail to present the violence within the context of intimate partner violence. This gives women a false sense of security as it wrongly perpetuates the view that the greatest threat for women comes from strangers.
  • ‘Murder-centric’ focus: News media usually report on homicide between intimate partners as opposed to other forms of violence against women. This is problematic because it ignores the fact that domestic violence includes ongoing physical and psychological abuse.
  • Use of Language which Indirectly Alters Blame and Responsibility: News reports on domestic violence shift the culpability from male perpetrators to female victims by providing unnecessary background details of the victim’s sexual life, use of drugs or alcohol, which portray victims as reckless and partially or entirely responsible for the transgressions committed against them.

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Social Media & Hashtag Activism

As a means to spread awareness of domestic violence and challenge the assumptions and beliefs perpetuated by news media, many activists and victims of domestic violence have taken to social media and participated in the culture of Hashtag Activism. Hashtag Activism unfolds through Twitter and has become a powerful tactic for fighting gender inequities around the world (Clark 2016). Such online activism empowers citizens to share their stories and detail the realities of domestic violence which news media seems to hide. In the past two years, a number of hashtags have emerged as a means to change the discourse surrounding domestic violence. These include: #stoptheviolence; #WhyIStayed; #seethesigns, #PutANailOnIt and #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou.

The hashtag, #WhyIStayed appeared in September 2014 after footage emerged of NFL player, Ray Rice, physically assaulting his wife, Janay Palmer. While the footage shocked the world, news organisations criticised Janay Palmer’s character and questioned why she would stay in an abusive relationship. Fox News Presenter, Brian Kilmeade insensitively said that women who stay with abusive partners send a “terrible message” to other people. This was problematic as it shifted culpability upon Janay for the actions of her husband. In response to such concerns, Beverley Gooden, an author, activist and a victim of domestic violence, started the #WhyIStayed hashtag to encourage women to share their experiences and help others understand the complicated nature of such abusive relationships and why they felt they were unable to leave. Following Goodnen’s tweet, the Twittersphere witnessed more than ninety thousand tweets using the hashtag in one day (Clark 2016). The aggregative and collective force of the #WhyIStayed hashtag spread greater awareness about the realities of domestic violence and how it can entail psychological abuse. Thus victims were empowered to provide a counter-discourse and collectively critique mainstream media coverage of domestic violence and its victim blaming narratives by sharing their own experiences of domestic violence and rerouting dominant news media discourse away from victims’ behaviour, towards the actions of perpetrators (Clark 2016).

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Furthermore, unlike traditional news media which dictates the news agenda, social media enables the mobilisation of diverse groups from across the globe into one online space, ensuring participation is active and equal. Hashtag Activism has provided an online space for groups who are silenced in domestic violence coverage. For example, Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than women in the rest of the community. Yet such incidents receive little coverage (Gilchrist 2010) as traditional news media shapes our understanding of who can be a domestic violence victim and abuser. However, while news media bodies have a tendency to ignore domestic violence committed on Indigenous women, women of different ethnical backgrounds, sex workers and queer groups, Hashtag Activism provides greater understanding on the issue and gives these women a voice to share their powerful stories.

In fact, the #WhyIStayed hashtag gained such momentum that it changed mainstream discourse in the offline world and led to positive action. Mainstream news media took notice of the hashtag and amplified it to the masses by adopting a framework that supported victims and depicted a more accurate representation of the realities of domestic violence. Even the NFL partnered with No More, a domestic violence awareness campaign, to produce a series of public service announcements aired during football game broadcasts (Clark 2016). Furthermore, following the online movement, there was a significant increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines and state-funded programs across America in September 2014 (Clark 2016). In fact, one woman told Beverley Gooden that upon reading the collective experiences of other women, she too, felt empowered to leave her abusive partner. Thus the individual stories were connected together through the hashtag to create an empowering narrative about domestic violence, which produced collective action (Clark 2016).

Thus Hashtag Activism has a discursive and subversive power which is vital to changing the misconceptions traditional news coverage perpetuates about domestic violence. The #WhyIStayed movement demonstrates how social media provides an empowering platform for people from across the globe to bypass the traditional oppressive narratives asserted by news media organisations, and reclaim agency over the production of their own stories (Clarke 2016).

Reference List

Carlyle, K, Slater, M & Chakroff, J 2008, ‘Newspaper Coverage of Intimate Partner Violence: Skewing Representations of Risk’, Journal of Communication, vol. 58, no.1, pp.168-186.

Clark, R 2016, “Hope in a Hashtag: The Discursive Activism of #WhyIStayed”, Feminist Media Studies, vol.16, no.5, pp.788-804.

Cohan, C 2014, “#WhyIStayed: Twitter Hashtag Highlights Real Reasons Women Stay with Violent Partners”, The Telegraph, 10 September, viewed on, 1 September 2016 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11087329/WhyIStayed-Twitter-hashtag-highlights-real-reasons-women-stay-with-violent-partners.html&gt;.

Gilchrist, K 2010, ‘“Newsworthy” Victims?’, Feminist Media Studies, vol.10, no.4, pp.373-390.

McGregor, K 2010, National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women 2009: Changing Cultures, Changing Attitudes – Preventing Violence Against Women, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

Morgan, J & Politoff, V 2012, Victorian Print Media Coverage of Violence Against Women — A Longitudinal Study, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

The Conversation 2016, ‘FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous women 34-80 times more likely than average to experience violence?, The Conversation, July 4, viewed 17 August 2016, <https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-indigenous-women-34-80-times-more-likely-than-average-to-experience-violence-61809>.

NPR 2014, “Hashtag Activism in 2014: Tweeting ‘Why I Stayed’”, NRP, 23 December, viewed 1 September 2016, <http://www.npr.org/2014/12/23/372729058/hashtag-activism-in-2014-tweeting-why-i-stayed>

Our Watch 2015, ‘Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety to Reduce Violence against Women & their Children’, Report, November, viewed 17 August 2016, < https://www.ourwatch.org.au/getmedia/339a9055-16fb-4d57-8cb3-3d2a2f9c5fa1/Media-representations-of-violence-against-women-state-knowledge-paper.pdf.aspx>.

Osborne-Crowley, L 2015, “Two Women are Now Killed by Domestic Violence Every Week. The Time for Discussion is Over. It’s Time to Act”, Womens Agenda, 19 February, viewed 3 September 2016, <http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/top-stories/item/5319-two-women-are-now-killed-by-domestic-violence-every-week-the-time-for-discussion-is-over-it-s-time-to-act>.

From Centralised Media Networks to Distributed Media Networks: Citizen Journalism

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New is a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This makes media organisations to be quite power in the social, economic and political spheres as they have the ability to dictate and define what news is. However, such pursuits prove to be more dangerous when that consolidated power is only shared by the top few media proprietors. The centralisation of media ownership threatens freedom of expression and limits a diverse public discussion on relevant issues. As Elizabeth Hart claims, it damages ‘the quality and depth of national and international media’ (Hart 2011, p.400). This clearly reflects the current age of Murdochracy, with giant media mogul, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited controlling 70 percent of metropolitan newspapers and 23 percent of the regional dailies (Hart 2011, p.406). Such ownership and control reflects the way in which legacy media relies on a traditional centralised network, whereby communication is restricted to a one-dimensional model in which legacy media broadcasts the message to a passive audience.

However, thanks to internet, information technologies and our smartphones, the network typology is quickly shifting from a centralised one, to a distributed one in which individuals are no longer passive consumers of news and content, now, they have become active prosumers who contribute to the creation and distribution of news and content. This is because the internet allows mass decentralised communication. In particular, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit empowers ordinary cropped-03-social-media-management87773citizens to contribute, share and aggregate news. Through these platforms we can easily share photos, messages and videos across the internet, allowing users all around the world to access and engage with such content. Thus the advances in digital technology and the growth of the internet have empowered a new era of citizen journalism. This means that we now live in a participatory culture where ordinary citizens are also contributors to the community through self-expressed user-generated content. Essentially, we can dictate what is important.

Furthermore, not only can we produce news, we can also produce it instantly to the masses online without the constraints of time and space which legacy media has traditionally been confined to. In fact, in many instances, we are able to make the news before traditional news broadcasters can even get to it. This is clearly evident with social media platform, Twitter. As Gina Horton (2013) writes “Twitter is a key player, and the list of news stories that break on Twitter before they do on mainstream media is staggering”. As she notes, the death of Whitney Houston was reported on Twitter one hour before mainstream traditional news media picked up on it. Similarly, users in the Twittersphere were the first to hear about the death of OsamaBin Laden, one day before Barack Obama announced it to the world.

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Another classic example of Citizen Journalism at play was when a 13-year old girl filmed two young women assaulting and abusing an elderly man. The amateur footage was later handed in to the police and was also posted on YouTube which circulated across social media sites.  Channel 9 aired the Footage on a Thursday night and by the next morning, the names of the young women were circulating on social media. Members of the public also called the police and by late Friday afternoon, both women handed themselves in to the police. This one example demonstrates the way in which the combination of the mobile phone and social media has made it harder for offenders to escape liability.

In fact, traditional news broadcasters have also recognised the changing patterns and have thus embraced this participatory culture. For example,151111150033-ireport-share-graphic-red-overlay-tease after the activity of citizen journalists during the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 London Bombings, in 2006 CNN launched its iReport Initiative which allows people from across the globe to share and publish stories, pictures, videos and breaking news in one space. This demonstrates the way in which CNN relies on individuals (who were once passive consumers) to share news stories.

Thus the smartphone and the internet have revolutionised the way in which audiences now engage and participate in the reporting and distribution of news. The media landscape has dramatically shifted from a centralised media network of production to a distributed production, aggregation and curation of information flows. Now, news is no longer restricted to the gatekeeping mode of information and production utilised by legacy media. Essentially, such technologies have led to an innovation in journalism: now, ordinary citizens have the power to share news instantaneously at the tip of their fingertips.  As Kate Bulkley reported many agree that such technological developments have added a richer dimension to current affairs.

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References:

Bochenski, N, Calligeros M, 2014, ‘Gold Coast bus attack: two women leave elderly man ‘upset and shaken’, Brisbane Times, 28 February, viewed 20 September 2016 <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/gold-coast-bus-attack-two-women-leave-elderly-man-upset-and-shaken-20140228-33pyl.html>. 

Bulkley, K, 2012, ‘The Rise of Citizen Journalism’, The Guardian, 11 June, viewed 20th September 2016 < http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jun/11/rise-of-citizen-journalism>. 

CNN, ‘CNN iReport’, CNN iReport, viewed 20 September 2016 < http://ireport.cnn.com/>

Hart, E 2011, ‘Case study 6: media ownership’, in J Bainbridge, N Goc & L Tynan (eds.),Media and Journalism : New Approaches to Theory and Practice, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp400-408.

Horton, G 2013, ‘What is Citizen Journalism and How Does it Influence News?’, Brandwatch, 18 September, viewed 20 September 2016, <https://www.brandwatch.com/2013/09/what-is-citizen-journalism-and-how-does-it-influence-news/&gt;.