What makes a crime story newsworthy? It is a non-stop question for editors and reporters in their daily practice. Jewkes (2011) argued that everyone of crime story is potentially a source of crime news. The critical issue is how to prioritize the stories and what should be reported in limited coverage. Jewkes suggested a set of criteria to determine the news value of a crime story, the elements included threshold, predictability, simplification, individual, risk, sex, celebrity / high-status persons, proximity, violence / conflict, visual spectacle / graphic imagery, children, and conservative ideology / political diversion. It is a matter about public appeal and public interest.
A recent study about news value by Harcup & O’Neill (2017) was telling another part of fact. The definition of “newsworthy” and decision maker may be changed. In the age of social media, everyone can be editor, report and audience. Some new elements make the crime news different. In this updated version of value, there are 15 criteria to value the level of newsworthy of case in social media. Comparing with the version by Jewkes, 5 specific ideas should be highlighted: shareability, entertainment, drama, follow-up and audio-visuals.
The power elite
News organisation’s agenda
New value in the age of social media (Harcup & O’Neill, 2017)
New Ideas about News Value
It is an ideal framework for the explanation of massive popularity of self-produced news product about sextortion, like the video “Facebook騙局：Double May大波妹” in YouTube. It made good use of the shareability of social media, created an entertaining and dramatic storyline, provided follow-up features with imagination, and showed their talent and creativity in audio-visuals making. It brings much possibility and opportunity of news production.
Jewkes, Y. (2011). The construction of crime news. Media and Crime, 39-71.
Harcup, T., & O’Neill, D. (2017). What is news? News values revisited (again). Journalism studies, 18(12), 1470-1488.
Sextortion is not only a topic of news report, but also a social fact happen in our society. The claim makers and their dominant discourses constructed the perception of sextortion as a crime issue for general public through news media. However, is that traditional mechanism still powerful? What is the situation in social media?
For further examining the feeling and thought of netizens about sextortion in social media, we designed and did a small scale social experiment. LiHKG, one of the most popular discussion forums in Hong Kong, was chosen as our platform. We created a fake story of sextortion. A male user opened a topic about how to help a female victim in the case of sextortion and seek for advice. The experiment started from 10th November, 2017 and ended at 12th November, 2017. Finally, 160 replies from netizens were collected. The methodology of content analysis was applied in this study.
Type of Discourse about Sextortion
All of the 160 comments were grouped in 5 types, which are “Criticizing the Perpetrator”, “Victim-blaming”, “Mocking”, “Support and Suggestion” and “Others”.
The first type is Criticizing the Perpetrator. Surprisingly, there are only 2 comments about criticizing the criminal behavior.
The second type is Victim-blaming. 33 netizens argue that the female victim was too stupid to allow her boyfriend to record the sensitive interaction. She deserved to be punished. Some of them also used harsh and violent to describe the victim, like “雞” (chicken/prostitute ) and “公廁” (public toilet).
The fourth type is support and suggestion. 58 comments were in this group. They provided ideas about how to report the case to police, request social media platform to remove the record, and tips about how to handle the relationship with perpetrator.
Crime issues are common subject for entertainment products in popular culture, like dramatic movies and television shows. Undoubtedly, crime news reports were important source for the production of crime drama shows. However, the consideration of producers is not only how real the stories are, but also how massively popular the shows could be. There should be a balanced formulation of fiction and reality in their content when they are usually presented as “realistic" or “real story adaptation" portrayals of the crime issue (Dowler, Fleming & Muzzatti, 2006).
In information era, the situation became more complicated. The news and entertainment products about crime issues were no longer monopolized by mass production. Everyone can self-produced a news report of drama about crime and justice in social media. The differentiation between producer and audience is blurred (Yar, 2012). Comparing with traditional dramatic movies and television shows, the creative product in social media may be a better choice for us to study the presentation of specific crime issues in popular culture.
Double May as a Code of Sextortion
CapTV is an independent video channel formed by a group of young people in June 2015. It aims at production of videos about social and political issues. The media image of CapTV is pro-democracy and social satire. There are more than 300,000 follower in their facebook fan page and YouTube Channel. In 9th June, 2017, CapTV published a new video themed “Facebook騙局：Double May大波妹" in facebook and YouTube. It is a short film about sextortion in form of fake news report and drama. It fastly got a huge number of like and share in social media. “Double May” in fact is an indecent term that describes a sexy woman body (大波妹in Cantonese). The producers created this term with imagination of gendered stories as a code of sextortion offender, especially the fake female perpetrators in naked chat scam.
In the video, potential victim was described as a careless and prurient young man without love experience. The narration of sextortion was closely related to appearance of female body image. The producers made it in a funny and entertaining way, but they never claim that the crime stories and value is true or right. It “successfully" attracted more than 100,000 views. “Double May" was constructed as a keyword about sextortion in popular culture now. It was commonly used by other news media like Apple Daily, Oriental Daily and HK01 in the presentation of sextortion. New media brought a different system of encoding and decoding of crime stories in the blurred relationship between producer and audience, as well as fiction and reality.
Revenge porn’ is typically understood as the non-consensual distribution of private, sexual images by a malicious ex-partner. In Hong Kong context, revenge porn is also one of the ways of sextortion. Other than male victims facing sextortion after online naked chat, there are reports of female victims being threatened by ex-partner to reconcile the relationship.
Stories involving female victims received a different coverage compared with male victims. According to our news selection, sextortion which involved male victims had precise wordings in reporting. Simply the fact is reported while the background of neither the offenders nor the victims would not be discussed. The context of report is limited and did not have a lot of graphics. On the other hand, the news involving female victims might concentrate on portrayal of female victimization.
There would be more description and graphic on the reports of crime with female victim. stories about women victims may have a heightened visual, sexual, or sympathetic appeal. It may also be a product of news values and gender discourses. (Naylor, 2001)
Some of the reports would also disclose the family background of the female victims and the details of the crime, it increases the curiosity from the public. The news coverage and information was a lot more than those with male victims. This is how media shaped the public’s understanding to sextortion, especially when there are female victims.
Last but not least, revenge porn involves the Internet and social media. Worrying the negative impacts to daily lives, women hardly speaks out and chose to endure the sufferings on their own. Some of the women victims, especially for those who are professionals, might even feel hard to report it to the police because they are worried the incident was known to their significant others. The Chinese society perceives that female who engages in sexual activity as lack of proper virtues. Worrying their private life being exposed to the public, women tended to hide the incident. Therefore, the society should consider how could females sex crime victim be helped and a lot more supportive services to prevent under-reporting sextortion should be poured into the community.
McGlynn, C., Rackley, E., & Houghton, R. (2017) Beyond ‘Revenge Porn’: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse. Feminist Legal Studies. 25:25–46
Naylor, B. (2001). Reporting Violence in the British Print Media: Gendered Stories. The Howard Journal. 40(2): 180-194.
Victim blaming refers to the escape of responsibility by placing the blame for the crime or other abuse at the hands of the victim. Victim blaming has also been construed as involving judgments that the victims deserve what they get. (Sheikh & McNamara, 2014). Blaming victim is especially common in sexual assault cases. In the modern age, victims who maintain multiple, contemporaneous social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) are at increased risk of victimization. (Arntfield, 2015) Therefore, there are evidence to prove the relationship between victimization and exposure to social media. In our deviance issue on sextortion, victim blaming is not obvious in ordinary mass media but the situation in social media, such as discussion forum, is definitely another picture.
In the discussion forum, when a victim is trying to seek advice, he or she is most likely being blamed by other online users. As far as everyone is being an internet judge nowadays, the keyboard could a powerful weapon in shaping secondary victimization. Previously, we had conducted a social experiment in a well-known forum, LIHKG, by making up a fake story about a friend facing sextortion. According to our social experiment, about 160 feedbacks were collected. About 33 out of 160 comments we collected are about are the victim as being stupid and naive. Some of the users in the discussion forum even asked for the sex video. The negative comments could not help victims when facing sextortion. Rather than offering social support to the ‘victim’, the online user adopted another attitude putting the problem onto the victim alone. The comments was mostly negative.
From the emergence of online social media, people, even the victim of a crime, could have more opportunities in sharing their personal experiences. However, the feedback of the online users did reflect how the crime is perceived by the public. Undoubtedly, standing a neutral stand and avoid blaming the victim is important. More focus should be put on the influence brought by the crime, but not the victims had ’caused’ the crime. In order to reduce the victim-blaming, proper civil education in educating the public not to judge others online could be considered by the government. Besides, ‘real-name authentication’ could also help improving the internet security, thus hindering the online users from making too many negative responses.
The Hong Kong Police force (HKPF) had produced two video clips on Youtube Channel in 2013 about the risk between making friends online and Sextortion. In both videos, young men acted as the victims who were induced to perform naked chat with young sexy girls. After getting the video clips with naked images, the blackmailers (might not be young sexy girls but a group of blackmailers) would use these clips and images to threaten the victims paying for some amount of money in order for them not releasing the subject videos. At the end of both video clips, representatives from the HKPF rounded up saying that 20-30 males from white collar workforce might be easier to be the victims.
Does it mean young sexy girls are always the swindlers?
20-30 males from white collar workforce are more easier at the risk of Sextortion?
According to the Annual Press Conference on Hong Kong Crime Situation of Year 2016, HKPF presented there were 994 reported cases of blackmail in 2016 which only counted for 1.63% of the total crime cases in Hong Kong. Within the 994 blackmail case, 70% of blackmail involved “Naked Chat". In other words, “Naked Chat” encountered 1.1% of total crime cases in 2016. However, it was not clearly shown that the exact figures of victims by distinguishing how many female victims and male victims are there. Hence, it could not be confirmed that young sexy girls are highly chance to be a blackmailers whereas 20-30 males from white collar workforce are more easier to be victimized.
As readers of crime news reports, we often see different claims made by various parties such as the government authorities, professionals and expertise of the field, academic researchers, offenders and even the victims. Their claims may be based on various standpoints supported by statistical reports, empirical data or personal experience. We will explore how various claims made in relation to sextortion on newspapers may affect the portrayal of the issue to the audience.
Claim-makers identified in Sextortion crime news
Date in 2017
Name of newspaper
嫖客求妓女 梅開二度 卻只得一度 稱有祼照迫退款 勒索罪成
Tai Kung Pao
Hong Kong Government News
The Headline Daily
From June to November 2017, 15 news reports were found reporting crimes of sextortion in Hong Kong of which 6 reports listed in the table above consisted of some claims made by 3 different groups of claim-makers who held distinctive viewpoints towards the crime issue. They are namely:
1) The Hong Kong Police Force;
2) The Court Judge; and
3) Experts in Family Planning Association and Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG).
The Hong Kong Police Force
Source: Hong Kong Government News, Tai Kung Pao
The Hong Kong Police Force as a major representative of law enforcement agency, they primarily advocated various means of preventive measures to stay alert in online friends-making. They also stressed that sextortion is serious crime which warrant lengthy imprisonment once convicted with a view to impose deterrence effect to potential offenders.
嫖客求妓女「梅開二度」卻只得一度 稱有裸照迫退款 勒索罪成. Retrieved from HK01 (12 October 2017)
According to a news report on court news (HK01, 2017), the viewpoint of the court judge was obvious that retribution was the only way to attribute the responsibility of the offender in upholding law and justice. His claim could be substantiated and supported by the power given by the Judiciary and the respect and trust from the public which most people believed that the judge would act impartially.
The Family Planning Association & HKFYG
Source: Ming Pao News (2017)
In the past 6 months, only one circumstance was found with experts commenting on the sextortion crime issue – the announcement of a research on youth. In that particular research, it was conducted by the Family Planning Association on adolescence Internet usage which found 3% of the youth had tried online naked chat. It is particularly interesting that although only such a small number of teenagers had engaged online naked chat, the association still claimed that there may be some underlying linkage and potential problems for the increasing number of youngsters to have got in touch with pornographic materials on the Internet. And because of the vulnerability of children who may be easily affected by peers, such finding may then correlate implications that situation might deteriorate and lead to sextortion if it was not handled carefully by the government. As a result, such small number of unfavourable situation still attract concerns from the organization and subsequently claims have been made on the demand for local sex education reforms by diverse experts ranging from sex therapist to expert in HKFYG.
The Dominant Claim-maker owns the issue
Dominant claim-maker is the party who could direct public policy (Jewkes, 2011). From the data collected in the recent months, it is believed that the court judge was the dominant claim-maker in the issue. He claimed that offender should face more severe punishment due to seriousness of the offence he committed. The court judge could embrace what he claimed and had the authority to impose harsh sentence, i.e. 10 months imprisonment, to the offender immediately. As for the experts’ claims from the Family Planning Association, their claims have not been recognized by the government yet since none policy change was observed on youth sex education syllabus for the time being. It may take more time for the organization or the government to be convinced that such research finding is relevant to sex education policy before a change could be accepted.
Jewkes, Y. (2011). The construction of crime news. Media and Crime, 39-71.
Appearance of different kinds of news on the news media may vary at different frequency and depth of coverage. Some of them are recognized as more “newsworthy". Do you know why crime news about “Sextortion" is worth of reporting? We have gathered the news related to “Sextortion" in Hong Kong appearing on the newspaper during June to November 2017 and have investigated how news values may affect the news selection and reporting in traditional media institutions.
News on Sextortion
From June to November 2017, 15 pieces of news related to sextortion in Hong Kong have been collected. Their date of reporting with the news titles and where they were published have been outlined below as Table 1:
Date in 2017
Name of newspaper
嫖客求妓女 梅開二度 卻只得一度 稱有祼照迫退款 勒索罪成
熱戀中無防備 分手變計時炸彈 裸照要要脅趨升女孩惶恐
Sing Pao Daily News
Tai Kung Pao
網戀一女子 赤裸上身 深情送吻 呂慶耀疑墮裸聊騙局警跟進
Sing Pao Daily News
Hong Kong Government News
The Headline Daily
Significant News Values
Threshold / Importance
Sextortion is indeed challenging the moral standard of our society, especially true for the Chinese-based community like Hong Kong. Therefore, information on such crime had a high importance to the community and audience.
Since most victims were usually being captured of some photos or recordings of their sexual images without consent and then got blackmailed, the news stories usually contained some sensational words in the narratives of the process of the crime happened.
「其中一段顯示赤裸上身的呂慶耀對着鏡頭，不停自轉，並以普通話及英語說「嗨，寶貝」，「I love you so much (我非常愛你)！Don’t worry (不要擔心)，我一天一天愛着你」，他多度對着鏡頭來個深情獻吻，之後又再自轉，顯得相當興奮。」
Oriental Daily, 28 September 2017
Such kind of expressions highlighted the hidden side of men who may be considered to be naturally acquainted with great sexual demand and depicted as hilarious in front of the readers.
According to the Police reports regarding cases of sextortion, anyone who used the social media platform might be at risks of falling of a victim or suffering from monetary loss. The Police urged all Internet users should pay special attention to their personal security which may incur fear of crime to audience.
Almost all of the cases were only involved one perpetrator and one victim. One of the offender who admitted his defects on his personality and lacked interpersonal skills in handling relationship of opposite sex. That man was portrayed as certain kind of impulsive, irrational, violent which deviated from normality.
When news was related to children, either being offenders or victims, it would attract the public and media’s attention because children were usually seen as innocent and without guilty mind. According to Jewkes (2011), children’s involvement in crime news would be seen as deviation from conventional moral standard, i.e. something wrong with the society. Debates in the society may then arise.
In a case happened in the USA, it was found that out of 230 victims of an apprehended offender, 44 of them were considered as minors (Wittes, Poplin, Jurecic, & Spera, 2016). A research conducted by the Hong Kong Family Planning Association also found youth were engaging in online naked chat and with cases where teenagers fell of victim of sextortion (Ming Pao News, 2017). There were 4 newspapers (news no. 6-8 & 14 in Table 1) did report such research findings in 3 days on 13 June, 7-8 October. Therefore, when crimes were related to adolescents, it may draw more interest of media, readers and researchers than those related to adults. More examples can be found in news no. 13 and 15, the victims being reported on newspaper were young whose age was between 18 and 21.
Amongst all the collected articles, it was found that the length of the new reports were much longer with richer content when the victims were either children or person with high social status. As for reporting news related to a celebrity, the news would particularly attract media’s effort in reporting because the public was always interested in the life of celebrity (Jewkes, 2011). As seen from the news report shown above, much detailed descriptions were delivered in the news report to fulfill the curiosity of the audience on the private life of the prominence architect.
All in all, the above mentioned six news values were found to be not exhaustive but most relevant to the crime issue of sextortion. Overall speaking, the number of sextortion related news reports found may not be as much as other crime news, such as violent crimes. This may be explained that different news values may have different weighting to media in their selection of reporting crime news.
Jewkes. Y. (2011). The construction of crime news. Media and Crime. 39-71.
The word of “Sextortion" was originated during the 1950s in the US.
“Denoting an attempt to coerce a witness into changing their testimony by using their sexual history against them): blend of sex and extortion."– Cited from Oxforddictionaries.com
With the ubiquitous use of technology, sextortion has became one of the major cyber crime issue appeared around the world. Nowadays, sextortion cases are often related to online or webcam blackmail and naked chat.
‘A type of extortion or blackmail in which the blackmailer threatens to release the nude images of the victim unless he or she agrees to a sexdeal.’ – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the US
The issue is not about whether the nude images were taken in voluntary or from hacking into the victim’s webcam but about the harmful costs of the crime. In the UK, United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (2016) reported 864 cases happened in 2016. While in the US, FBI (2016) reported the average financial losses were about US$5,000 to US$10,000 per victims during 2015-2016. Besides financial costs, there were even reported suicide cases of the victims linked to these online blackmail. See Reported cases of webcam blackmail double, are linked to four suicides.