Warning messages to prevent illegal sharing of sexual images: Results of a randomised controlled experiment

Warning message by eSafety Commissioner on laptop

Illegal distribution of sexual images by adults and minors is an expanding problem. We examined whether messages would dissuade men (18–32 years) from visiting a fake website offering access to free pornography to users who uploaded a sexual image of a woman. Participants seeking to enter the site (n=528) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. Group 1 went straight to the landing page. Group 2 encountered a text warning that sharing sexual images of people who appear under 18 years old is illegal; Group 3 received the same message with an accompanying animation. Sixty percent of Group 1 participants attempted to access the site, compared with 43 percent in Group 2 and 38 percent in Group 3. We argue that online messages offer a valuable strategy that can help reduce image-based abuse and the distribution of child sexual abuse material, including by minors.


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