The outrage over a series of Facebook pages that posted sexually explicit photos of Maine teenagers was understandably strong and swift, but also unfortunately a little late.

While law enforcement and Facebook itself worked quickly to bring down the pages, that does not end the nightmare for the girls featured in the photos. Those images are still out there, and they may reappear, whether on yet another Facebook page, elsewhere in social media, or even on one of the many hidden networks or file-sharing sites in the Internet underworld known as the darknet.

Once something is online, it is likely there forever.

That’s why it is important to teach teens the dangers of taking explicit photos and allowing them out of their control, to reinforce those lessons through good parenting, and to create laws that treat the people who post these photos harshly, so those laws can act as a deterrent.

‘REVENGE PORN’

Maine is one of around 20 states to have a law against what is known as “revenge porn.” Passed last legislative session, the law, which goes into effect Oct. 15, makes unauthorized dissemination of private images a class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Revenge porn often is used by former intimate partners, but also by people who simply want to inflame and provoke on the Internet. and its purpose is to control, intimidate and embarrass.

It’s become more popular as social media and the phenomenon of “sexting” has flourished, and as other forms of control and terrorizing have been made illegal.

When the victims are underage, as with the recent Facebook posts, child pornography statutes also come into play.

But while it’s unclear how the as-yet-unidentified poster obtained the photos, one of the sites had a message for people to email photos so the creator could “take care of your ex.”

The state laws are a good start, but they don’t have the reach to stop this deplorable practice.

FEDERAL LAW NEEDED

A federal bill, the Internet Privacy Protection Act, is now under consideration, but it has been stalled in Congress for some time.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are generally protected against legal claims stemming from content posted by third parties, except in the case of copyrighted material, child pornography, medical records and some financial information.

The bill would essentially add revenge porn to the list of exemptions, and give some teeth to police and prosecutors going after revenge-porn posters who know they can simply operate in a state without any applicable laws.

That would be a relief to the women — and it’s almost always women — who have had to endure this violation without much in the way of recourse.

Revenge porn, because the photos are so intimate and the Internet so widespread and eternal, can be exceedingly harmful to its victims.

“Women withdraw from every sphere of meaningful activity when they fall victim to this crime: work, school, social media, personal relationships,” said a university professor who helped create the federal legislation. “The effect of brutal, unwilling exposure is that women try to disappear.”

HARD TO KEEP UP

There have been other efforts to stop the spread of these kinds of images.

Google recently said it will remove from its search results nude or sexually explicit images posted without consent.

And the Internet Watch Foundation, a charitable organization based in the United Kingdom, is working with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Twitter on a new technology that gives inappropriate images a distinct digital fingerprint, allowing them to be tracked easily and taken down almost everywhere they appear within the mainstream Internet.

But the people behind these posts are adaptive, and the Internet is wholly adaptable.

That’s why kids need to know that anything in digital form, whether it’s been shared with a friend or just sits on their phone, could end up online, and why people who disseminate the images need to know they can be caught, and will face punishment.

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