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Fight against 'online shaming' enters new phase

Recently, 'amateur videos' (such as on porn sites and xHamster) have been subject to stricter rules, to prevent 'online shaming'. But online shaming goes much further than publishing sex videos. Stricter rules will apply to that too. In this article, we cover the issues surrounding online shaming in general, and the latest developments in particular.

Online shaming is the digital version of the medieval pillory. That pillory is now online: on websites and social media. With offensive (image) material published without the consent of those involved, which can be copied endlessly, haunting the victims for years to come.

It often involves sexual images, as in revenge porn, shamesexting, sextortion, or deepnudes, but it doesn't have to be. For example, you can also be ridiculed on a meme account, or with a deepfake video. Or be hurt by images of a loved one's fatal accident.

But online shaming can also do enormous damage textually (and non-sexually). As with the recently taken down website 'ZwartelijstArtsen', which blackened not only doctors but also others (such as judges, and ex-RIVM foreman Jaap van Dissel), because of their involvement in disciplinary cases. Or:

  • exposing, damaging - mostly Moroccan - young people who were allegedly not behaving religiously enough. With qualifications like 'he is a gay', 'she is a whore', or 'he/she is trans';
  • doxing, in which private data - including residential addresses - are made public, of people who are in the news (such as ministers), based on online documents ('docs') or public registers, such as the Chamber of Commerce or Land Registry;
  • juice channels (online gossip pages), which can be even more damaging than traditional gossip magazines because juice-vloggers no longer depend on the cooperation of the BNs in question (as was still the case previously, with traditional gossip magazines).

Major consequences

Online shaming can have major consequences. Such as: reputational damage, private problems, harassment, social isolation, job loss, anxiety, depression, and eventually even suicide.

An additional problem is that the victims themselves are often blamed for what happened to them. In other words: victim blaming. Forgetting that the material was usually obtained through secret recordings, or abuse of trust. This secondary victimisation increases the risk of trauma, isolation and not daring to seek help or support.

Among BNs who are victims of juice channels, this is a bit more complicated. After all, they could indeed be blamed for it, as they often owe their BN status in part to their activities on social media. So then they get a taste of their own medicine, so to speak.

What are you doing about it?

Online shaming can be dealt with both criminally and civilly. But legal proceedings cost time and money. While it is especially important for victims to get the offending material offline as soon as possible to prevent the information from spreading like an oil slick.

Unfortunately, legal and judicial options are rather behind the times. Moreover, as a victim, you are usually powerless against big companies like Google and Facebook. But also against smaller players, such as Dumpert, who accept secretly recorded images. This requires specialised support to get your rights. For instance, by being able to force a website or social medium to take offensive material offline à la minute.

Several parties, including the Foundation Stop Online Shaming (SOS), are making efforts to improve current laws and regulations. For example:

  • That there should be a super emergency procedure at one central court in the Netherlands, in which a judge assesses the request to take compromising content offline within 24 hours (or preferably even faster);
  • That victims' privacy is maximised in court cases. Victims should be prevented from reappearing in the media (by name, their compromising images, etc.) as this could lead to additional suffering;
  • That there should be a full litigation cost award for these types of cases, i.e. including their own lawyer's fees. Because it is unreasonably expensive, and thus restrictive, for individuals to take on (large) media companies.

These are mainly longer-term goals. But there are also short-term gains to be made, especially by better enforcement of existing laws and regulations. That is one of the tasks of the Personal Data Authority, but of course it needs more manpower and resources.

If you have a problem with online shaming yourself, you can currently contact:

  • the website or platform itself - to ask them to remove the content (text or image) relating to you. Possibly with reference to court rulings on the matter (see below, under 'Recent developments');
  • Helpwanted - for practical help, personal advice and tips for bystanders;
  • the police - to report or file a report. A declaration is a request for criminal prosecution. A report is a kind of 'report light', where you inform the police of the situation so they know what is going on (and where you contribute to 'the statistics'). The more reports, the more likely it is that something will be done about it;
  • the Legal counter - For legal advice;
  • A (specialised) law firm, such as Boekx lawyers, or an online reputation management agency, such as MediaMaze;
  • Slachtofferhulp Nederland - for emotional support, assistance in a criminal trial, or support in getting compensation for damages;
  • the Personal Data Authority (AP) - for reporting privacy violations. (But don't expect too much from this, due to the AP's huge capacity constraints);
  • the foundation Stop Online Shaming - not for individual help, but rather to raise fundamental issues to improve current laws and regulations (through lobbying work, group processes and test cases).

Recent developments

Online shaming is increasingly coming under the spotlight, from politics to the judiciary, as well as in the media. Below is an overview of the latest developments. Judicial rulings are crystal clear; politics is unfortunately a bit more vague.

  • in 2021, BlacklistArtsen (.com and .nl) was banned by the court. However, appeal proceedings are still pending;
  • in 2022, a court ruled (in a case against porn site that websites can only publish nude images if the people involved have given their consent;
  • in 2023, the court confirmed (in a case against porn site xHamster) that websites must check whether the people filmed have given permission for their images to be disclosed;
  • in 2023, the Lower House passed a bill by minister Yeşilgöz to criminalise doxing. The Upper House has yet to give its verdict on this;
  • in 2020, there was an initiative bill (by CDA, PvdA and GroenLinks), to criminalise the publication of victim images. The current status of this proposal is unfortunately unclear;
  • by 2022, VVD MPs Queeny Rajkowski and Ulysse Ellian have called for a total ban on deepfakes proposed. The Stop Online Shaming foundation was consulted on this, advising that it would be better to enforce existing laws and regulations rather than enact new ones. Especially also because the technology can hardly be stopped, a ban on deepfakes hinders 'innovation', and 'satire' should of course always remain possible;
  • In 2023, the cabinet pledged to better shield private addresses in the Land Registry (allowing doxing should become less possible);
  • in 2023, EU member states and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA). Whether the fight against online shaming can also benefit from this remains to be seen.


Much progress has now been made, in the fight against online shaming. But we are still far from...