The Sun using blogs to solicit amateur Page 3 Girl style photos
When The Sun first launched their MY Sun social networking / blogging / message-board platform last year, I wondered how long it would be until they started soliciting topless pictures of their reader's wives.
I didn't have to wait too long.
I don't know if it is strictly the first time they have done it (given their Page 3 Idol competition a couple of months back), but during the run-up to Easter, in their "Easter Bunny" competition (first prize is to be in a Page 3 shoot) they are specifically getting the entries by having girls upload saucy snaps to the site.
The thing is, it isn't that I mind seeing ladies in a state of undress - far from it - but I think there is a time and a place on the internet to encourage young women to send in semi-naked pictures of themselves, and I'm not personally convinced that the place should be the website of the UK's biggest selling daily newspaper.
What really annoys me is the hypocrisy of The Sun.
Here are some samples of The Sun stories about the internet:
"SCAN your e-mail and the chances are you will find a filthy image from someone you do not know.
Spend just a few minutes in an Internet chat site and you’ll read all kinds of foul language and be directed to the sickest porn sites imaginable.
So is society condemned to having the Internet hijacked as a playground for warped perverts?"
from The hidden Internet dangers
"The Internet is the biggest danger to children ever."
from Can we stop web pervs?
"The internet has ruined my daughter’s life"
from Perv was web predator
The paper is clearly, therefore, aware of the dangers of young women being exploited on the internet.
So why then are they publishing calls to action like the one below, ecouraging readers to send in the pictures of themselves, when they have scant security in place to defend anyone under the age of 18 being exploited by their own competition?
They only have two check-points where they establish the age of anyone using the MY Sun service.
When they register users have to set their date of birth, and tick a box that says they are 18 or over. The application for an account stalls if the birthdate indicates you are under 18.
There is, of course, nothing to actually enforce that restriction.
I applied for a MY Sun account using a free web-based email address, setting a password, and then selecting a birthdate which would make me a couple of days shy of my 18th birthday. The application was rejected. So far, so good.
But then the site allowed me, directly from the page displaying the "You must be over 18" warning screen, to apply again. I used the same email address and password combination, and just shifted my fictional birthdate back a couple of days. This time the account was authorised.
From that point on, The Sun has got no idea for its Easter Bunny competition whether the 'glamour girls' in their saucy snaps:
- were above the age of 18 when the photographs were taken
- are the person whose MY Sun account they are being uploaded on
- were willing participants in the online upload, or indeed in the initial photography.
It is impossible for News International to police that.
Photographs are seemingly post-moderated, and there is an 'alert moderator' functionality, but it is entirely unclear to my untrained eye how you visually spot the difference between a topless girl who is eighteen years and one month old, and a similar photo of her taken two months previously. Or how you tell whether the person in the photo has consented to the photograph being uploaded.
Now, I'm sure they've taken legal advice and done a risk assesment on the worst that could happen, and figure that "users abuse user-generated content system" isn't going to destroy their sales, but "The Sun publishes child porn", which is how a topless image of an under-eighteen year old would be classified in British law, is pretty damaging to brand equity.
Especially to a brand that devotes so many column inches to attacking online paedophiles and the dangers the internet poses to children.
And then there is another aspect of child protection on the internet to this as well.
The age restrictions only apply to becoming a member of MY Sun. There is not even an attempt to restrict viewing this type of content to members only. The URLs and picture-laden blogs of the Easter Bunny wannabes can be viewed without being logged in by anyone of any age.
Whilst it wouldn't make the proprieter of the Daily Express blush, I find it astonishing that The Sun wants its online brand extension associated with the type of content pictured above, and thinks that this type of content is firstly suitable for all, and secondly, sits well with their general editorial tone about the dangers of the internet.