An explicit video went viral across various social media platforms last year. A woman sent the video, which featured her engaging in a sexual act, to her ex-boyfriend, only to face serious online abuse after becoming a meme. The woman from Naples, Italy tragically took her own life on Sept. 13, 2016, just days after winning a legal battle that forced Facebook to remove the posts. However, removing the posts isn't enough, because the Tiziana Cantone meme should never have been shared in the first place, and especially should not be shared now.
BuzzFeed reported last week that the meme became something of a joke to average internet users, and even Italian corporations, which shared stills and quotes from the video, which was first sent using WhatsApp. Because profiting off of female sexuality, objectification, and violation is apparently totally acceptable. The Cantone meme should have never been uploaded to social media in the first place. Doing so was a violation of her privacy, her trust, and her consent.
We all know about consent, right? Yes means yes, no means no, listen and respect people's decisions, bodies, and rights, etc. The concept of consent does not suddenly disappear when it comes to uploading sexually explicit content of another person to the internet. The concept of consent also absolutely applies to the many people who violated Cantone's rights and body when they made her into a meme that was widely shared. Stop sharing the memes.
Stop sharing the memes of Cantone. Stop suggesting that she deserved for the images, the quotes, and the videos to go viral. The only way that would be true is if she had consented to it in the first place — if she had consented to the video being uploaded to social media, and to the video being shared widely. Cantone's case is an important and explicit example of just how deadly the structures that uphold misogyny can be, how this culture of violence against women's bodies not only exists in the so-called "real world," but also and especially on the internet.
Yes, we should talk about the culture of privacy and online discretion, and how to be safe with our content and the information we share. However, more importantly, we need to have a discussion about the importance of respecting women's bodies and lives. The language that has been used to describe Cantone — and the shielding of the person who shared this video, even now — speaks to just how important it is to have this conversation about sexual harassment and consent.
A recently published Australian study suggested that the harassment of women on the internet is becoming something of an established norm. This harassment might include cyberbullying, rape and death threats, and "revenge porn," which is when an individual shares explicit images or videos of another person without their consent. The study noted that one in 10 women under age 30 has experienced revenge porn. This is unsurprising, especially in a world that consistently questions what it means to have consent, and where sexual harassment and violence against women are already the norm — on the internet, in the street, at school, at work, and even in the home.
In truth, you never had permission to watch or share Cantone's video, or the memes that the video became, and you absolutely should not be sharing them now. It doesn't matter if it was sent to you directly or if you stumbled upon it by accident. It was never your right to look at or share it just because it was on the internet. It is not your right even now, especially since the person whose personhood, consent, and body were shamed and violated by the sharing of those memes has taken her own life because of it.
Cantone was a victim. She remains a victim. Stop sharing the meme. It is not your right.