The armed forces came under heavy fire in early March after servicemen were caught circulating lewd photographs of their female colleagues on Facebook. Over the weekend, investigative journalists found out the Marine Corps photo-sharing scandal went further than anyone had expected.
The story was first broken by Thomas Brennan of The War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by a Marine veteran. Brennan had been tipped off to the seedy underside of a large Facebook group geared towards active-duty and out-of-service Corps personnel. For months, members had been sharing nude and pornographic photographs of their female colleagues. Some of the illicit material had been taken without the subjects’ consent or knowledge, while much of the rest was put up by angry ex-lovers and former boyfriends.
A Defense Department probe into the affair uncovered another forum being used to share degrading pictures of women in uniform. Anon-IB, a chan-style anonymous imageboard, was found to have a section devoted to the discussion of military subjects. Most of the posts seem to be made by soldiers and servicemen from various branches.
Caution is suggested for anybody trying to weave together a web of scandal and sexual corruption. Anon-IB, by all appearances, is not the sort of military-exclusive “forum” Fox News and other outlets suggested over the weekend. Like other imageboards such as 4chan, Anon-IB is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. There are no usernames or e-mail addresses or backgrounds checks; in fact, like all chan-style websites, there isn’t even an option to register for membership. Anonymity is the default setting. Users who opt to use “names,” referred to as “tripcodes” in chan-speak, are oftentimes derided or mocked as attention-seekers.
Even if the Defense Department and independent investigators dug up Anon-IB in a search for groups sharing nudes of servicewomen, it seems illogical and almost ignorant to assume the board is part of a larger network. There are almost undoubtedly some connections between Anon-IB’s “Military” interest board and the Facebook group; however, the sharing of inappropriate amateur pictures is commonplace on anonymous imageboards.
A quick look at 4chan on any day would show dozens of threads posting or requesting nudes taken of women in different states. As abhorrent and invasive as the practice may be, it is not surprising that the users of such websites would also include likeminded servicemen.
Hopefully the Defense Department can find a way to track down and prosecute the men who were and still are publicly sharing pictures of their female counterparts. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has already indicated that it might seek felony charges for any perpetrators found to have been involved in photo leaks.
Until then, the media and Armed Forces shouldn’t assume that every website, no matter how illegal or immoral the hosted content might be, is part of a massive, coordinated scandal between men serving in various branches. Anonymous imageboards have a long history of being safe havens for perverts and unscrupulous characters.
Anon-IB may have absorbed some of the content and users from the unofficial Marines Corps Facebook page, but it was, ultimately, an independent and older webpage. If anything, what Fox News and the mainstream media should be reporting is that they’ve recently uncovered a very visible and longstanding set of anonymous communities which have existed since the inception of the Internet.
As the Defense Department delves into their new discovery, investigators must be ready to admit that the sharing of pornographic photos of female soldiers and Marines is a very old issue – one which ties into the very widespread problem of unauthorized amateur nude content being published all across the web every day.
Why, then, did it take a Facebook group and whistleblower to get the government’s legal arm to finally spring into action?