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The Rob Kardashian And Blac Chyna Feud Isn’t Just About ‘Revenge’

A legal expert says it’s a lot more complicated.

Whether or not you’re attuned to the ongoing dramas of the Kardashian krew, you’ve likely heard by now that Rob Kardashian (brother to Kim; sock entrepreneur) spent much of his Wednesday posting a series of nude photos, presumably sent to him privately, by his ex-fiancée and mother of his child, Blac Chyna (formerly Angela Renee White; model; makeup entrepreneur). Because the social media spree took place after he’d discovered that Chyna had apparently cheated on him, Kardashian’s act has been roundly deemed by celebrity gossip mongers like TMZ as “revenge.”


Indeed, celebrity attorney Lisa Bloom (daughter of famed civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred) confirmed this reading of the events when she announced Friday morning that she’d be representing Chyna in court as she pursues a restraining order against her raging ex. Bloom — who helped actress Mischa Barton get a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend who was threatening to sell her sex tape — told The New York Daily News that what Kardashian did constituted “revenge porn,” stating: “Revenge porn is illegal in CA and it certainly appears to me that Rob has violated this criminal law.”

California passed its revenge porn law in 2013. Today, more than half of U.S. states have similar laws. The very language with which we use to talk about “revenge porn” reveals a lot about how we approach the issue, casting it in terms of personal drama rather than as a violation of personhood. Iowa-based Drake University law professor Shontavia Johnson says the popular phrase is misleading. “Revenge porn is really about privacy, about protecting our personal information and having a right to do that,” she says. “We use the term 'revenge porn,' which makes it sound like it's about the perpetrator, but it's really about the privacy of the individual victim, and whether or not an unsuspecting victim can in some way stop this picture or video from being placed online.”

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]We use the term 'revenge porn,' which makes it sound like it's about the perpetrator, but it's really about the privacy of the individual victim.[/quote]

Legally, the term “revenge porn” refers to “nonconsenual pornography,” and laws have been implemented to prevent the distribution of this kind of sensitive material without the consent of the subject or with the intent of humiliating the victim. Kardashian’s influence and status — he has millions of Instagram and Twitter followers — will certainly strengthen the case against him, says Johnson.

“The fact that he's got millions of millions of followers really makes it worse,” says Johnson. “It significantly impacts the reach and the visibility of those images. … A lot of these laws are designed to protect everybody” who uses the platforms that have become a part of the Kardashian-Chyna drama.

Instagram, where Kardashian originally posted the photos, has been notoriously stringent about its policies against nudity, and encourages users to report any “inappropriate” images. (“We have zero tolerance when it comes to sharing sexual content involving minors or threatening to post intimate images of others,” warns the site.) Kardashian’s Instagram account was shut down after he posted the photos, which he subsequently reposted to Twitter. Those photos were later deleted too (it’s unclear whether they were deleted by him or Twitter), but his account remained active.

“One place was no longer a platform for him, so he moved on to the next platform,” says Johnson. “I think, frankly, a lot of that is indicative of where social media users are congregating.”

Instagram’s guidelines are so strict that they’ve been heavily criticized by users, some of whom say that what gets to stay and what needs to go should be left to the users, who have different ideas about what constitutes “inappropriate.” Meanwhile, though Twitter’s policies against abuse appear to mirror Instagram’s, it’s become apparent in recent years that the platform has trouble dealing with harrassment, making it both difficult to report abuse and – once a report has been made – to hold abusers accountable.

Yet companies like Twitter and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) may not have much at stake legally when it comes to removing revenge porn — they’re protected by a law passed in 1996 called the Communications Decency Act, which, says Johnson, insulates internet service providers from civil liability or “from being sued for the activities of their users.”

“We’re watching in real time as these social media platforms figure out what’s best,” says Johnson. So no matter what the ultimate legal ramifications of this case turn out to be for either Instagram or Twitter, the more inhospitable these sites become for victims of harassment, the more users they’ll lose – which means companies still have an interest in formulating and implementing better policies, she says.

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