Skip To Content
BuzzFeed News Home Reporting To You

"Revenge Porn" Is Neither Pornography Nor Revenge

We're looking at how to find the most accurate synonym for a sensationalized name.

Posted on November 16, 2019, at 2:15 p.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Quibbles & Bits, the BuzzFeed News copydesk's newsletter. Sign up below to nerd out about language and style with us once a month!

As a copydesk, we’re always trying to ensure that stories use the most accurate language possible. After Katie Hill resigned from Congress, an editor asked us to consider an alternative for the term revenge porn, which is commonly used to describe the distribution of sexually explicit images or video of a person without their permission. Supporters of Hill’s used this term when discussing photos of her that were posted by a conservative website. In laws that exist and ones being proposed regarding this sort of harassment, revenge porn is everywhere.

But the word revenge, many argue, puts blame on the victim — implying that they had done something wrong to provoke the perpetrator to leak these materials. Meanwhile, pornography implies consent, when the very issue at hand is the lack thereof.

A very important sidenote: Our review has also led to a discussion about the term child pornography, which is used in law enforcement and legislation to refer to child sexual abuse material. Internet watch groups and victims advocacy organizations encourage lawmakers and media organizations to call this what it is: child sexual abuse images and video.

The proposed alternatives to describe what has been called revenge porn are not as straightforward. Sen. Kamala Harris has put forward the term cyber exploitation, which is being used by California’s law enforcement agencies (Hill used it in her resignation letter as well). But the issue with cyber exploitation is that its meaning is unclear. It could encompass things beyond what is specifically being discussed when we talk about the distribution of sexually explicit images or video — such as other sorts of hacking or doxing. But if cyber exploitation becomes a more common term, particularly in state and federal laws, it would be preferable to revenge porn.

A UK legal researcher devised the term image-based sexual abuse to emphasize the harm done to victims. Others have gone with nonconsensual sharing of sexual images, and the Australian Parliament has used the term nonconsensual sharing of intimate images in its laws, while noting that people may interpret the meaning of intimate differently.

Our style is not all about what we like, obviously. Language in journalism has to be accessible to its readers. As revenge porn remains common parlance, we’ve found the best solution, for now, is to set it in quotes and clearly state that it is a term used for the crime. If we limit our use of a term we find inaccurate and replace it with language like nonconsensual sharing of sexual images, a more accurate alternative can take hold.


Here are some questions we’ve answered in the newsroom:

Very quick Q: “Nothingburger” — one word? Two?

One!

If using “indigenous” as a general adjective, it is lowercase, right?

Yes.

What is the plural of “state attorney general”?

State attorneys general.

Do we need to capitalize “airlines” when referring to Delta?

It depends on the context, but if you do...fun fact! Their official name uses two words: Delta Air Lines.

TV Land / Giphy

What’s New?

Here are the newest words, names, and updated guidelines in the BuzzFeed Style Guide:

  • The language living with HIV or has HIV is preferred to HIV-positive.

  • Asian is often used as a shorthand for East Asians and/or Southeast Asians. Use more specific identification when possible, e.g., South Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian.

  • Person/people of color (POC) is a generally acceptable term to describe people of races other than white in the US. Do not use POC interchangeably with specific racial identities, like black Americans or Latinos.

Have any burning style-related questions? Drop us a line at bfstyleguide@buzzfeed.com.


Copyediting on Oct. 31 versus Nov. 1:


4 Things We’ve Loved Over the Last Few Weeks

  1. The new iOS update includes 398 new emojis, including gender-neutral options and depictions of people with disabilities.

  2. A seasonal recommendation: Zach Goldhammer explored why Americans call turkey turkey. 🦃

  3. Here’s more guidance on how to explain the singular they to your doubtful coworkers, this time from Chelsea Lee at the American Psychological Association.

  4. These are the language trends that Grammarly loved in 2019.


And finally, a meme:

your writing before and after copyediting

@styleguide / Twitter

Thumbnail credit: Getty Images.


ADVERTISEMENT