Cyber-flashing is becoming such a big problem that a state is now making it illegal. Texas passed a law set to take effect Saturday that bans cyber-flashing — sending sexually explicit material online without consent. Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Austin-based dating app Bumble, contacted Texas state representative Morgan Meyer to draft the bill, which would make digital sexual harassment a criminal defense.
Pew Research Center’s 2017 study found that women face more than twice as much sexual harassment online as men do, and 53% of those women reported that someone had sent them explicit images without consent. Starting this Saturday, sending unwanted sexual images via text, email, dating apps, and social media will be a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.
Bumble’s chief of staff Caroline Ellis Roche told AP News that the company is planning to bring this law to the federal level. Other states have laws against cyberstalking, “revenge porn,” and anonymous lewd content without consent, but Texas is the first to outlaw cyber-flashing specifically.
Cyber-flashing via Airdrop or Bluetooth is completely illegal in Singapore and parts of Australia. There’s a lot of discussion of cyber-flashing in the UK, but it’s still a grey area legally.
Herd told representative Meyer that a significant number of Bumble users had complained about receiving unwanted images. Bumble, which Herd describes as a “feminist dating app,” requires female users to message first — male users cannot make contact without receiving a message. Cyber-flashing may be even more common on other dating apps, where men initiate contact over 80% of the time, according to research from UC Berkeley’s School of Information.
Critics of the bill claim it will face legal challenges for its broad scope, potentially including medical or breastfeeding images. Roche told AP News that Bumble understands enforcing the law will be a challenge, but hopes the law will be a helpful deterrent against online harassment.