U.K. Government Accepts Bumble’s Call to Make Cyberflashing a Crime
When Whitney Wolfe Herd founded Bumble in 2014, safety was central to her mission: she sought to create an online space where women could make the first move without fear of harassment, misogyny, or any of the other toxicity that has long plagued the internet.
While we’ve done our best to curb bad behavior—using tools ranging from human moderation to A.I. technology—recent studies have shown us that more should be done across the internet, particularly when it comes to the sending of unsolicited images or video recordings of genitals without consent.
Cyberflashing is a pervasive problem, experienced disproportionately by women. Research from data analytics firm YouGov shows that four in 10 millennial women (41%) have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man’s genitals (dick pics, colloquially) without consent. Bumble’s own research* suggests this figure could be even higher, with nearly half (48%) of those aged 18 to 24 receiving a sexual photo they didn’t ask for in the last year alone.
These explicit images are regularly sent on social media and messaging apps, as well as via AirDrop, WiFi, and Bluetooth, and women are disproportionately the recipients. The distress caused often leaves a lasting impact, changing how women perceive safety and interact with the internet as a whole.
Since November 2021, Bumble has been raising awareness about the prevalence of cyberflashing and campaigning to criminalise this abhorrent behaviour. Working with a coalition of experts including Professor Clare McGlynn and organisations including UN Women U.K., the United Nations’ gender equality arm, Refuge, End Violence Against Women and Glitch, amongst others, we have been holding cross-party Parliamentary consultations to galvanise support from Members of Parliament in the U.K, calling on the public to support the campaign by writing to your MPs, lobbying the government through ongoing consultations and an Open Letter calling for immediate action.
In March 2022, the U.K. government announced that it would make cyberflashing a criminal offence under the proposed Online Safety Bill. Bumble worked with key politicians and organisations to achieve this significant milestone. This new law is the first step to creating accountability and consequences for this everyday form of harassment that causes victims—predominantly women—to feel distressed, violated, and vulnerable online.
However, to drive societal change, any new law must be based on non-consent. This means that the offence is based on whether the recipient consented, irrespective of the sender’s intentions. This is the emerging international standard that we’re seeing across the United States, recognising the violating nature of the harm, and making accountability, and enforcement, more likely.
* The research was commissioned by Bumble and carried out online by Research Without Barriers. Surveys were conducted between 15th-18th October 2021 with 1,793 respondents who live in England or Wales. All research conducted adheres to the UK Market Research Society (MRS) code of conduct (2019) and ICC/ESOMAR (international). RWB is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and complies with the DPA (1998).