Online Images/Text – Young People

I would like your opinions on a sensitive and questionable issue that i have come across in my research. As you know, I’m focusing on attention seeking behaviours online. These behaviours are often displayed through photographs of the self (“selfies”), but they can also be text based. The problem lies predominantly with the photo images of young people.

I’m concerned with the legalities of possessing and using these photos in my research. Specifically photos of young people that could potentially be minors, and could potentially been seen as containing sexual material. Due to finding these images online, I do not always know the ages of the people involved and this could be an issue.

Legally, the Victorian Crimes Act (1958) states that child pornography includes possession of photographs that “describes or depicts a person who is, or appears to be, a minor engaging in sexual activity or depicted in an indecent sexual manner or context“. However, without a definition of “sexual manner”, perceptions of these photographs is largely subjective. What I might view as non-sexual content, someone else might find very suggestive or indecent.

I know if i wanted to publish images, or use these photographs in my focus groups I would require ethical clearance by the University. My question is, am i allowed to possess these images in the “information collection” phase of my research, and what the implications of doing so might be? My confusion stems from the fact that these photos are online (so therefore public) and are often taken by the person themselves, and presumably uploaded by the person themselves. I have no intention to distribute these photos/examples without first receiving ethical approval. However, is ethical approval for the research enough to counteract any possible legal implications?

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