Cyberflashing is the nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit videos or images via technology.

Cyberflashing is a growing issue through social media and photo-sharing technology, such as Airdrop. It is a serious enough issue that the United Kingdom recently passed a law making cyberflashing a criminal offense.

This article further explains cyberflashing. It also discusses the effects of the act. Finally, it explores whether it is illegal and how to cope with cyberflashing.

This article includes personal stories from Mandy French, an editor at Medical News Today and an individual who has experienced cyberflashing.

Content warning

This article features personal stories that some readers may find upsetting. Please read at your own discretion.

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Cyberflashing is the act of sending someone unwanted and unsolicited sexual images or videos. This is typically done via social media, dating apps, text messaging, or Bluetooth, such as Apple Airdrop.

It can be considered an image-based form of sexual abuse.

UN Women of the United Kingdom states that 41% to 48% of females over the age of 18 have been sent an unsolicited sexual image in the past year. According to the U.K. Government, around 76% of females 12 to 18 years old have experienced cyberflashing.

There is little research speaking on how often cyberflashing happens to males.

Why do people do it?

According to research from 2023, there are various reasons why people cyberflash. Among these were partner hunting, power, and control. The study noted that 64.3% of people who engaged in cyberflashing reported partner hunting as their reason.

The study states that being a female was considered an endorsement for this partner hunting and sexual gratification through cyberflashing.

Cyberflashing vs. sexting

Some people may confuse cyberflashing and sexting. There is one major difference that separates the two, however.

Cyberflashing is receiving unsolicited images or videos. Sexting, on the other hand, is the consensual exchange of sexual content. The main differentiation there is “consensual.” When it comes to sexting, both parties are consenting to the images or videos they are receiving.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Cyberflashing can affect people in various ways. The effects of this image-based sexual abuse can be as serious as when a person experiences it in person.

Mandy’s story: How cyberflashing affected me

I had an Instagram account with more than 90,000 followers. During this time, it was a daily occurrence to receive unsolicited sexual images and videos in my inbox. It got to the point that I was receiving at least 50 messages in this manner per day.

It affected me in many different ways. I became down in mood overall. It made me anxious every time I logged onto my social media. I began to feel like I had done something to encourage those who were sending me messages. I wondered, “Why me?”

I wouldn’t say I developed depression. However, I did begin to experience depressive symptoms. The cyberflashing messages I was receiving almost constantly began to have an effect on every aspect of my life.

It affected my body image and my self-esteem and made me feel dirty within myself.

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Experiences of cyberflashing can lead to:

Those who experience cyberflashing may keep the experience to themselves. They do this out of the fear of being blamed or shamed for the occurrence.

Speaking out about these experiences can also be made more difficult over the assumption that individuals could and should simply safeguard themselves by avoiding certain apps.

Cyberflashing is illegal in certain states. These include:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Other states are considering creating laws that criminalize cyberflashing. However, this is not always an easy process.

Cyberflashing is illegal in the United Kingdom. England was the most recent country in the United Kingdom to criminalize cyberflashing.

While legislation is changing across the United States and other countries, there are ways individuals can help keep themselves safe and prevent cyberflashing.

The Breck Foundation suggests changing the privacy settings on one’s phone if they have Airdrop. A person can change the settings from receiving from anyone to receiving off or only from contacts.

They also suggest changing social media accounts to private so only people an individual chooses can message them.

Individuals can also report instances of cyberflashing to social media platforms. In areas where it is illegal, they can report these instances to the police as well.

Mandy’s story: How I coped with cyberflashing

In my experience, cyberflashing became overwhelming. This occurred before it was made illegal in the country where I live. As it was affecting my mental health, and I saw no other option, my way of coping was to delete my Instagram account.

I had nearly 100,000 followers, but because the instances of cyberflashing became so prevalent, I felt I had no choice but to get rid of the account.

The responsibility lay completely on me to end the cyberflashing and protect myself. I created a new account and kept the settings private.

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If a person feels their experience with cyberflashing has had lasting effects on their mental health, they can speak with a mental health professional.

There are movements for more governments to make cyberflashing illegal. Many governments are considering these legislations.

Social media platforms should also take more steps to protect their users from these instances of image-based sexual abuse. There should be more responsibility placed on the perpetrators of cyberflashing, rather than those experiencing it.

Cyberflashing can have long-term effects on a person’s mental health. Future steps need to include more ways to discourage people from participating in it.

Cyberflashing is when a person receives unsolicited images or videos via technology. It is considered a form of image-based sexual abuse.

Cyberflashing can have various effects on a person’s mental health, including anxiety and depression.

The United Kingdom and some U.S. states have passed legislation making cyberflashing a crime. More governments are considering similar steps.

Currently, the main ways a person can cope with and prevent cyberflashing are by protecting themselves by changing their privacy settings on their phones and social media.

If a has experienced cyberflashing and feels it has had lasting effects on their mental health, they can speak with a mental health professional.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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