Every generation gets the moral panic it deserves. The 1980s had satanic cults and teen pregnancy, 1990s had designer drugs, the aughts had rainbow parties and Paris Hilton. Looks like the 2010s have cemented theirs: Sexting.
On VanityFair.com, serial teen chronicler Nancy Jo Sales makes a strong case for a new super strain of technologically advanced moral outrage—and she has the Snapchat screenshots to prove it. Under the headline, “Friends Without Benefits,” Sales shows how social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Omegle, Ask.fm, and Twitter; apps like Instagram, Tinder, and Snapchat; and video chat services like Skype amplify and broadcast the worst instincts of impressionable teenagers without any impulse control.
Throw in the mainstreaming of pornography, cyber-bullying, sexting, revenge porn, hook-up culture (jury’s still out on that one), our national selfie obsession, and a very unhealthy dose of FOMO—most of which disproportionately impacts girls—and you get exchanges like this:
“The thing with social media is, if a guy doesn’t respond to you or doesn’t, like, stalk you back, then you’re gonna feel rejected,” said Melissa.
“And rejection hurts,” said Padma.
“And then you’re gonna go, like, look for another person to fill that void and you’re gonna move on to stalking someone else,” Melissa said.
“That’s how men become such whores,” said Greta.
“Guys actually take the Facebook-talking situation way too far,” meaning sexually, said Zoe.
They were nodding their heads.
“Like, when guys start a Facebook thing, they want too much,” said Padma. “They want to get some. They try with different girls to see who would give more of themselves.”
“It leads to major man-whoring,” Greta said.
“They’re definitely more forward to us online than in person,” said Zoe. “Because they’re not saying it to our faces.”
“This guy Seth, who is normally timid in real life,” said Greta, “sends girls messages asking for nudes.”
She showed me a text exchange in which Seth had asked her to “send pics”—meaning nude pics, a request Seth had punctuated with a smiley face. Greta had responded “Lololol” and “Hahahaha” and “Nope.” “It wasn’t THAT funny,” Seth had texted back.
“He isn’t my boyfriend,” clarified Greta.
“My friend, she was VC-ing,” or video chatting, “this guy she was kind of dating,” Melissa said. “He sent so many nudes to her, but she wasn’t trusting that he wouldn’t show the pictures to other people. So she Skyped him and showed him nudes that way. He took a screenshot without her knowing it. He sent it to so many people and the entire baseball team. She was whispered about and called names. It’s never gone away. He still has it and won’t delete it.”
The kids Sales talked to said social networking and dating apps are clueless as to how their tools are being used:
“Gotta wheel the bitches in. Gotta wheel the bitches in,” said the teenage boy on a city bus in New York. “Nowadays you can do it so easy. There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you the girls. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but really they’re just giving teenagers ways to have sex.”
And the behavior this technology fosters starts young and stays with kids through college:
“My little cousin, she’s 13, and she posts such inappropriate pictures on Instagram, and boys post sexual comments, and she’s like, ‘Thank you,’” said Marley, a New York public-school girl. “It’s child pornography, and everyone’s looking at it on their iPhones in the cafeteria.”
As long as it's not about you, the posture toward public shaming seems particularly blahzay blah:
“Remember when Anita got semen on Maya’s jacket?” Jeff asked with a smile.
“And then Maya posted it on her [Facebook] wall,” Sarah said with a laugh.
Sales, whose previous article for Vanity Fair magazine was the basis for Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and the very best scene in the history of reality TV, primarily talks to well-to-do kids in from private and magnet schools in Los Angeles and New York. The evidence is all anecdotal, but even for non-Millennials, the underlying motivations sounds so familiar. The obsessive-compulsive influence of a “likes”-based approval system, the pressure to be performative and the “tedium of success theater,” how photo-sharing values appearance above all else, the inability to opt-out. It’s human nature’s fault, technology just intensifies it and lowers all barriers to bad behavior.
Sales doesn’t bother quoting any of the kids' parents, who only appear to get involved when the cyber-bullying goes school-wide, and why should she? That’s mostly between and teenager and her smartphone and app-makers are tripping over themselves to cater to them.
Our culture, it is fucked.
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