Monday 28 November 2016

Nude photos have become a valuable commodity in the digital marketplace with both sellers and buyers. But in the information age it would indeed be calamitous if we haul social status at someone else’s expense.

Sexual shaming may be considered as a market place with actors, assets, and means: A victim, to whom shaming is a pure expense, a perpetrator (seller), whose profit is notoriety or social status (or every so often money), and an audience (buyers) getting some sort of satisfaction, whether this is sexual, social, or something third.

The dealers are well-informed in the sense that they know that the commodity has a value, and that there is a demand – and the consumers know accordingly what they want. It is this market structure that incites to make sexual shaming a product at supply, in demand and hence existing under certain market conditions.

It is worth noting, that those who move about on larger, organized sharing pages usually operate anonymously. But under the veil of anonymity there are profiles with cover names gaining notoriety and recognition for their dirty deeds on a large scale. As in any other sub-culture it is exactly the internal group-recognition that has most significance, while the external recognition (the one from parts of one’s surroundings and the rest of the society) is of less importance, if at all.

Demand Exceeds Supply

The market dynamics is based on a supply and demand economy where interaction between buyers and sellers provides the price of the commodity.

The commodity being supplied is typically compromising photos of girls and women. Most often these photos are originally exchanges in a one-to-one relation between two persons—not intended for flourishing outside this relation. One should hence imagine that the demand should be very limited for an audience not part of the one-to-one-relations.

Still, a lot of pictures are exchanged or traded in a one-to-many relation. This provokes two kinds of supplies: A legitimate supply among the two persons in the one-to-one relation, and an illegal among many. The demand exceeds, so to speak, the legitimate exchange and spurs the increase in the illegal supply. When a picture ends up in a one to many-relation it becomes a commodity that can be negotiated, priced, sold, and exchanged for other compromising images of yet other victims.

As part of the market structure there is this kind of IOU-relation, where the buyer owes the seller a photo, if the trader in question previously has obtained a photo of high value. This continuous demand, where buyer and seller owe each other valuable goods, contributes to the perpetual liquidity of the market.

When the Danish feminist, Emma Holten, as a response to the sexual shaming she was exposed to in 2011, voluntarily shared dozens of nude pictures of herself, she flooded – so to speak – the market with the demanded product, whereupon the value dropped. When the market is punctured, it is no longer liquid.

Pluralistic Ignorance   

One of the fundamental mechanisms of status economy is that the distinction between rational and irrational driven actions is blurred. In an attempt to gain status and attention the individual may be ready to compromise private opinion just to jack up notoriety, fame or attention. The hunt for fame and status obscures the sensible understanding and acknowledgement of sexual shaming being at the expense of the victim, destructive and hurtful.

Obviously, it may every so often be rational to glance at what others are doing for social recognition and satisfaction, but this tactic often becomes irrational as soon as we do something, because we think that everybody else thinks it is the right thing to do even if no one thinks so privately. It’s called pluralistic ignorance and describes unfortunate situations in which it is legitimate for everyone to remain dense because as everyone thinks that everyone else thinks although no one for real thinks such and so. This pluralistic ignorance thrives safe and sound in the digital world (, where herds of people do what they do, because they think that everybody else ’likes’ it – without necessarily liking it themselves.

A great many things are kept alive in the online world, because we individually speculate in what we think other people think is the right thing to do, the cool thing to pursue, the thing that returns most social capital. This is so even if we don’t really like it – and in any case don’t want to be bullied, shamed, or in other ways harassed ourselves. Collectively we may subscribe to a norm we privately reject because we erroneously believe that all, or at least the majority, believes something very different from what we in fact believe ourselves.

It is this status economics on steroids, which may occasion a market for sexual shaming. It is part of the DNA of humans that we covet the recognition or attention of others – that is part of being a social animal.

In the information age – in the midst of the 4th industrial revolution with information in abundance, which should preferably also serve enlightenment and education –  we should not compile social capital at the expense of others just because there is a new information based marketplace for it. That would be a step backward, not a step forward.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

About the Authors

Kathrine Elmose

Kathrine (b. 1990) holds a BSc in Sociology from the University of Copenhagen and studied at McGill University, Montréal in autumn ’15. Besides doing research at Center for Information and Bubble Studies she is on the point of finishing the MA programme in Sociology.

Profile photo of Vincent F. Hendricks

Vincent F Hendricks is Professor of Formal Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Elite Researcher of the Danish State and Director of the Center for Information and Bubble Studies funded by the Carlsberg Foundation. He is the author of many books, among them Infostorms (Springer Nature 2016), Mainstream and Formal Epistemology (Cambridge University Press, 2007) The Convergence of Scientific Knowledge (Springer, 2001). He is also the author and editor of numerous papers and books on bubbles studies, formal epistemology, methodology and logic. Hendricks was Editor-in-Chief of Synthese and Synthese Library 2005-2015.