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Why Google joined fight against revenge porn

Google says it cannot remove images from the websites, but will remove them from Google search results.

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Google logo at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California on April 12, 2012.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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Google will join the fight against so-called revenge porn.

Soon victims of revenge porn will be able to ask Google to take down content from search results.

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The move was praised as a significant step forward, given Google search's breadth of influence. 

"What we have seen in the last six months is this public consciousness about the profound economic and social impact of that posting nude images without someone's consent and often in violation of their trust can have on people's lives," University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron, an expert in online harassment and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, told USA Today. "What victims will often tell you and what they tell me is that what they want most is not to have search results where their employers, clients and colleagues can Google them and see these nude photos. It's not just humiliating, it wrecks their chances for employment. It makes them undatable and unemployable."

The company’s Vice President Amit Singhal said in a blog post posted on Friday that although Google believes that search should reflect the whole web, “revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women.”

“In the coming weeks we’ll put up a web form people can use to submit these requests to us, and we’ll update this blog post with the link,” Mr. Singhal added.

The images will not be removed from the websites, but will not appear in Google search results.

Revenge porn is a term for the online posing of explicit photos of people without their permission. These images sometimes end up on “sextortion” sites intended to coerce victims into making payments, having sex or performing sexual favors.

The practice first came to public attention in 2010 a website "Is Anyone Up" began posting revenge porn photographs, until its founder Hunter Moore shut down the website in 2012. Named by Rolling Stone “the most hated man on the Internet”, Mr. Moore was arrested in January 2014 and pleaded guilty in Los Angeles court in February.

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Revenge porn laws already exist in some US states. In October 2013 California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first-in-the-nation law criminalizing revenge porn.

Two months later, Kevin Bollaert, a 28-year-old revenge porn website operator from San Diego was arrested. In April 2015 Mr. Bollaert was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

As of June 1st, 21 states have laws against revenge porn, according to law firm C. A. Goldberg.

Social media sites are also taking steps to crack down on revenge porn.

Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter – three of the biggest social media sites in the world – have issued new policies against revenge porn. According to their new policies, all three platforms will delete offensive content and in some cases ban the user from their platforms.

Charlotte Laws, a prominent anti-revenge porn activist told The Christian Science Monitor in March that the practice will fade away when Internet users as a whole band together against the revenge porn. Ms. Laws has launched the “The Tribute Movement" project where strangers send compliments to people being harassed.

“This is essentially a push for people online to spring into action when they notice someone being bullied,” Laws said.

Google Singhal writes that its current decision will not solve the problem of revenge porn, but he hopes that “honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery” from their search results will help.