By Kara Irving
May 18, 2011
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Images of scantily clad women are being widely circulated without their knowledge through a private “men’s only” Facebook group, reigniting the debate for stricter privacy laws for social media in Australia.
Since its inception two weeks ago, “The Brocial Network” has attracted more than 8000 members, including at least four players from a Melbourne-based AFL club.
The site features hundreds of images of women in bikinis and lingerie, obtained from the personal Facebook photo albums of the members’ female friends.
Tillii, a 21-year-old student who is pictured in a bikini with her friends, wasn’t aware that her photo had been circulated via the page.
“It makes me feel sick that people would go to the effort of taking [uploading] the picture and posting it up,” she said. “I just thought [the picture] would be taken as fun, not as the way that they’ve turned it around.”
Tillii has since been inundated with random “friend” requests from men she doesn’t know.
Jade, 21, was shocked that images of her and her friends on holiday were circulated on the site without her consent.
“I’m a little bit angry, to be honest. If it was one of my friends who has copied a photo of me to put on a public website and not let me know then I’d feel extremely betrayed,” she said.
“I think it’s just perverted and disgusting and wrong … it’s wrong that they can take photos of innocent women who have no idea that these photos are being used on a public site where men can just go [look at] whenever they like,” she said.
Group creator “King Brocial” advises members via “The Brocial Code” to trawl friends’ social media sites for salacious images. The Brocial Code is a list of rules that must be adhered to in order to retain membership and access to the page.
One rule directs members to upload images of girls which “reveal a little too much”. Members are removed from the group if they fail to post images within a week of being added.
Once images are uploaded, members (known as “Bros”) post the women’s names and links on the site which allows King Brocial’s subjects to access the personal Facebook pages of any of the women on the site.
Earlier this week, membership to the group was frozen temporarily by the creator because men were attempting to add female friends to the group. Another of the Brocial Code rules is that “the girls that know about this site are kept to a minimum” and that there “shouldn’t be any [female members] in the first place”.
University of Melbourne public policy lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne said: “Any website that has images of women posted, asking men to rate them, is revolting. There’s no excuse.”
King Brocial is cashing in on the site’s popularity by selling $5 “I’m a Bro” wristbands on the Facebook page.
Several images have been reported as inappropriate to Facebook, prompting the creator to ask members to remove the images from the page to “reduce the amount of attention [they’re] receiving” from Facebook administrators.
The level of account privacy on Facebook is at the user’s discretion. According to the privacy statement listed on Facebook, users can actively change the level of privacy on the content they upload to the social networking site.
There are no privacy laws governing the sharing of private images through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Australian Privacy Foundation vice-chairman Dan Svantesson said no crime had been committed.
“Few people understand how weak privacy protection is from a legal perspective in Australia,” he said. “We haven’t seen the long-term consequences of people placing so much personal information on things like Facebook. It’s still quite a new phenomenon.”
Dr Rosewarne said people should be wary of their privacy settings on social media sites. “There needs to be more education, more media literacy around what privacy actually means online,” she said.
Tillii said she would be wary in future of the types of images she shares with friends online. “I’d be a lot more hesitant in putting anything up,” she said.
Jade agreed: “I just hope it’s shut down and something is done about it so it’s not done again.”