Website leaks private student photos

Mark Feuerborn

A website for anonymous posting was discovered hosting leaked nude photos of female students from multiple universities and high schools including Washburn University, University of Kansas, Washburn Rural and Seaman High last week, with posts indicating the site has been active for several months.

The website meticulously breaks down nude photo-leaking into a state-by-state, city-by-city system. There are fifty channels, each representing a different state in the U.S. On each channel, users start threads typically based on area code, city, university, high school or even specifically focused on one person. Users post photos taken from the students’ social media and request any leaks available.

In some instances, users were documented listing women’s phone numbers alongside their photos, and some threads were documented hosting photos of minors or photos of someone before they turned 18, which is child pornography.

One Washburn student, who was recently made aware of the website’s existence after appearing in a post requesting her nude photos, said she is scared someone may now upload private photos of her. This student has been kept anonymous for her safety.

“I feel kind of violated,” the student said. “It’s disgusting that somebody would go out of their way and try to get personal pictures. This is not consensual at all. I did not give anyone permission to post anything of me online.”

The website is based on 4chan, a once popular image board that predates social media networks like Facebook and is still active today. 4chan is known as a communication hub for the hacker group Anonymous, which derives its namesake from the lack of any identification or usernames required on 4chan.

This new leaking website mirrors 4chan’s graphics scheme, posting interface and level of anonymity. Additionally, its community displays signs of a unique culture, with users referring to nude photos as “wins” and users commenting “bump” on posts to bring them to the front of the thread catalog. No users are readily identifiable, but the users talk about some of the women with leaked photos in a fashion that indicates they know them in-person. In a thread focused on Topeka where Washburn students’ photos were posted as a request for a leak, one user wrote the following:

“Left is [name withheld] right is [name withheld], anyone have wins of them? Seen them at parties and they are smoking,” Anonymous said.

The student said that she was surprised by the number of other female students posted on the site.

“I’m sure a lot of these people on the website have no idea that they’re on it,” the student said. “I don’t even know how many people have seen their naked pictures, and [the girls] probably don’t even know.”

Particularly in Washburn’s case, the way the anonymous users speak suggests that some of them may be Washburn students, contributing to requesting and leaking photos of their peers. The student said she is particularly troubled by this knowledge.

“That’s the worst part, saying that they see me around,” the student said. “It could be someone I know very well, or it could be someone I have never seen before. It makes it stalker-ish.”

So long as both parties are two consenting adults, sending nude photos is not a criminal act. However, posting pornographic images of a person online without their consent is defined as revenge porn.

“I’m sure everybody sends them, it doesn’t make me a bad person,” the student said. “But [posting them online] is defining these girls by their bodies.”

As of 2016, Kansas is among 27 states to define revenge porn as criminal activity, in light of the Kansas House of Representatives and Gov. Sam Brownback approving HB 2501. This bill, which went into effect July 1, 2016, means those found uploading revenge porn could see felony charges of breaching privacy and blackmail, leading to six years in prison.

Joel Bluml, Associate Vice President for Student Life at Washburn, noted students contributing to revenge porn could also be subject to Student Code of Conduct violations.

“From the Student Conduct Code: ‘when the off-campus behavior of students can be reasonably expected to adversely affect the safety and security of persons on campus or the orderliness of the educational process, Washburn must implement the procedures provided for in this Code,’” Bluml said. “Considering the context of our discussion, I anticipate that determining if the Student Conduct Code would apply would be based on the details and facts of each specific incident.”

Bluml also said that students dealing with similar issues could come to the Student Life department for assistance.

“The Student Life team is dedicated to supporting students in their time of need,” Bluml said. “Washburn University is committed to serving students through an interdisciplinary approach designed to empower students to navigate barriers to student success.”

The website’s domain extension indicates it is hosted outside of the U.S., meaning it is operating outside of the state’s jurisdiction. The only way to criminalize the activity on the website is to identify the users posting photos, which is difficult on an anonymous image board.

Bluml said the most effective way to prevent leaks onto these websites is for students to carefully consider the possible outcomes of taking and sending private photos.

“I think the quick answer is to remind students not to share photos [or] texts that they wouldn’t want the world to see,” Bluml said. “I also realize that suggestions such as these are easy to make with the benefit of hindsight and do not necessarily always align with social norming in real time. Therefore, I would like anyone who has been victimized by this sort of activity to know that they will not be judged or lectured if they come forward to seek assistance in dealing with their situations. There is sincere interest in being part of the healing process.”