Every day we're finding new and different methods to share photos and information online. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, there are countless ways to make your life an open book. In cases where you’re sharing with family and friends, the danger is minimal. But the danger increases when you expand your online world to others.
Danger doesn’t necessarily have to be a horror story of an online romance gone wrong. The problem is that the appearance of these images on social media websites have caused serious unforeseen legal and personal consequences for the people who posted them. Employers often search Facebook photos when making hiring decisions so that drunk photo of you (jokingly holding a beer bong perhaps?) could cost you a job. Facebook updates could cost young people jobs says a recent study. Law enforcement agencies like the Raleigh Police or Wake County Sheriffs Department often use social media information to help them prove their cases in court. The police uses are more commonly used in the gang context but being on video involved with a fight (criminal affray in North Carolina) could mean criminal charges thanks to a social media video post. Enter Snapchat, which makes all of these issues even more complicated.
What Is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a photo and video sharing app for smartphones. The basic idea is that a user sends a picture that is viewable for up to ten seconds – and then it disappears from the internet forever. No lost jobs. No embarrassing photos available for all to see.
Like many social media outlets, you choose who you are connecting with on Snapchat. For those who are concerned that the images they’re sending could somehow get into the wrong hands, Snapchat seems like the perfect option to avoid those humiliating and sometimes tragic stories we see on a daily basis about Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
However if someone truly wants to save an image they will find a way to save an image that has viewing time limits on it. A person can simply take a screenshot or a photograph of that image using another device. Snapchat is supposed to tell the sender when the recipient has taken a screenshot - but jailbreaking an iPhone can get around that notification.
Although Snapchat began with the idea of giving its users the freedom to take pictures without having to worry about being embarrassed, it’s quickly turned into a method for people to send naked photos to others. In North Carolina it is a crime for teenagers to send naked photos. If an older student receives those photos they could possibly find themselves charged with child pornography or a host of other charges.
As for problems with law enforcement have began to surface, one recent incident in Montreal shows the dangers of sending teen sexting photos online through Snapchat. Montreal police recently arrested 10 teenage boys on child pornography charges for passing around pictures of teenage girls from 13 to 15 in sexual poses or performing sexual acts. The boys allegedly coaxed their female friends into posing for the pictures and sending them using SnapChat.
The girls thought the pictures would vanish within seconds. Instead, the boys found ways to get around the time limit (which can include taking screen shots of the phone, finding hidden files on the device or taking a picture of the 10 second picture with another phone).
That story is nothing compared to the consequences that you can face (again think child pornography charges) if you’re in possession of images of someone who is not only underage but is also naked.
However, other situations aren’t so easy. If naked pictures wind up in the hands of a person using them for child pornography or implied child pornography, the photos can easily end up splashed across the internet. That it was an image meant for private use for a limited time is irrelevant once the picture spreads across the Web.
Should You Continue Using Snapchat?
Like anything else, continuing to use Snapchat is entirely up to you. Be aware, however, of what might happen to you if your picture ends up in someone else’s hands. Think twice about sending questionable photos of yourself or others to a Snapchat friend, because that “friend” might not actually be a friend at all.
What is Teen Sexting?
Sexting is the taking and sharing of nude or sexually explicit photos by computer or cell phone. While some states have enacted laws to deal specifically with teen sexting, North Carolina has not. In many states, including North Carolina, when sexting involves images of children under the age of 18, it violates state laws against child pornography, and teens can be prosecuted under laws intended to punish adult sex offenders.
Sexting and Consequences
It is unclear how widespread sexting actually is among teenagers, but some surveys estimate that as many as 20% of teens have sent or received explicit photos. The same surveys show that many teens are unaware that sexting is illegal. Sexting has many other consequences aside from illegality. Online images can easily be forwarded, shared, or posted on multiple websites. Once photos are on the Internet, they can be difficult to remove and this can cause lasting damage to a teen’s reputation.
In North Carolina, it is a crime (called sexual exploitation of a minor) to possess an image of a child under the age of 18 engaged in sexual activity. Sexual activity is broadly defined to include touching of any private part of the body or any display of the genitals. It is a more serious crime to record, photograph, or duplicate nude or explicit images of children, or to distribute child pornography. It is also a crime to persuade or encourage a child under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of a live performance or the creation of pornography. For example, a 17-year-old who takes cell phone pictures of his 16-year-old girlfriend naked could be convicted of recording child pornography and, if he coaxed her into posing for the photos, perhaps even encouraging a child to make pornography. Possession of child pornography is a Class H felony in North Carolina, punishable by four to 25 months’ imprisonment. Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a crime under federal law.
Obscenity Laws in North Carolina
It is also a crime under North Carolina’s laws for a person to model, pose for, or photograph anyone (including him or herself) for the purpose of making an obscene photograph or movie. Any depiction of sexual conduct or nudity may be considered obscene. For example, a teenage girl who allows herself to be photographed engaging in oral sex could be convicted of making an obscene photograph. It also is a crime in North Carolina for anyone over the age of 18 to disseminate (sell, furnish, present, or distribute) to a child under the age of 16 any obscene material, such as pornography. Recording or distributing child pornography is a Class E felony, which can result in a sentence of 15 to 63 months in prison. Encouraging a child to make pornography is a Class C felony, punishable by 44 to 182 months in prison. Disseminating obscene material to a child under the age of 16 is a Class I felony, punishable by three to 12 months in prison.
Disseminating Material Harmful to Minors
It is also a crime in North Carolina to disseminate to a child under the age of 18 any material that is harmful to minors. Any depiction of nudity or sexual activity could be considered harmful to a minor. So, an adult who sends a sexual self-portrait to a child could be prosecuted under this law, or for disseminating obscenity to a minor, or for both crimes. Disseminating material that is harmful to minors and making obscene photographs are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to 120 days in jail.
Sex Offender Registration
People who are convicted of child pornography are required to register as sex offenders under North Carolina's laws. A person who is required to register as a sex offender and fails to do so can be convicted of a felony. The potential loss of employment opportunities by being placed on this registry are far and wide.
A conviction for child pornography or a similar crime can have very serious consequences for the rest of your life. If you or anyone in your family is involved in a criminal charge for anything related to these charges you need the help of an experienced attorney immediately. It is important not to discuss any matters around your case without an attorney present. Criminal Defense Attorney Wiley Nickel handles these cases in Wake County North Carolina and offers free consultations. You can reach Defense Attorney Wiley Nickel at 919-585-1486 at his office located in Cary, NC. You can also e-mail him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.