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I was involved in some not-safe-for-work (NSFW) photoshoots and amateur videos with a photographer in my undergrad (in the US) when I was going through a rough time. The media include my face in them (yes, stupid decision), and since I signed a model release he owns the pictures and videos.

He then set up a Tumblr account and posted the pictures and videos there (which I knew of and didn't mind at the time). However I recently realized that people had been stealing them and posting them on porn sites, and they've been up there for around 3-4 years now. There's no identifying information in them other than my face, so you wouldn't be able to just find them if you searched my name; you have to put in somewhat obscure terms or just happen to come across them to find them, really. Nevertheless I was shocked to see myself there. I'm trying to take them down but the videos are just on so many random porn sites that it'll be impossible to remove all of them. On top of that I don't technically own the media so there's that.

Anyway, I'm wondering how much of an impact this might have on my career? I'm currently doing a PhD in the EU and will apply to both industry and academia jobs in a few years.

I've seen Can leaked nude pictures damage one's academic career?, but decided to post a separate question since the other poster was able to take down the pics and their media was not as widely proliferated as mine are (from what I could tell), plus mine are on porn sites.

I've managed to have the images/videos removed from (what I'd consider) one of the two major websites they were on; hopefully I can get them removed from the other one too and then it'll be even more unlikely that people will find them?

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    there is something called "personal life".. I don't think people judge you for something you have done long ago... Good luck with your future.. – Praphulla Koushik Apr 9 at 8:00
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    The main question is whether the pictures come up when someone googles your name. If they don't, relax; no one is going to know. If they do, IMHO the most efficient thing you could do is chase them off the first page of the google results by getting a website, an ORCID page, a blog and signing up at various forums (like the stackexchange network). It's very hard to get a file off the internet if it has been widely shared. – darij grinberg Apr 9 at 8:21
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    @PraphullaKoushik: "People" maybe not, but "students";) – user111388 Apr 9 at 8:41
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    @secretkeepcup I see that your situation is different in that respect. But then, the top-rated answers to that question addressed the OP's hypothetical concern that the pictures might eventually be widely proliferated. So maybe there's something helpful for you in there. – lighthouse keeper Apr 9 at 9:50
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    Apart from the very low probability that anybody would stumble upon this material, and bring it to the attention of the hiring committee, if I was on the committee, I would not see the relevance of this to your suitability for the job. To me, this is about as relevant as if it came to light that you like deep fried mars bars, which is to say, completely irrelevant. – Alex B. Apr 10 at 9:31
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There are probably very large regional differences here. If you apply for jobs in very conservative areas, you might potentially face a larger back-reaction. That is, if it comes up.

I would say that I am from a quite liberal area of the world. I have been on several hiring committees, both in academia, and before that, in industry. I have never been on a hiring committee that searched through porn sites for pictures of a candidate. And frankly, I would be surprised if a member, who would have come across such pictures on their own time, would bring it to the attention of the committee.

And a personal perspective: Try not to worry too much about it. Everybody has a past. I can tell you that I also have naked pictures of myself online, not from porn, but from a reality-docu that aired on national television many years ago. Once I have had students mention it, and I simply said "yes, how did you like it?". And nothing more came of that.

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    Thanks so much, that's such a relief to hear actually. Won't be moving to any conservative areas tbh. – user122455 Apr 9 at 10:31
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    @nabla Haha that is a fantastic answer that you give to students in your last paragraph. – Helix Apr 9 at 16:45
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This is a rough situation for you, and you have my sympathy. However, I think it is also one that you cannot control: regardless of what actions you take now, the pictures are in circulation and will likely remain so. As such, there is little to be gained by worrying about it.

Unfortunately, there is always the chance that some student or colleague will stumble across the photos, recognise you, and then attempt to use this to embarrass you or otherwise gain advantage. Is this a bigger risk in academia/industry than any other career? I think this could be argued either way.

Bear in mind that while photos of yourself are instantly recognisable to you, it’s not always so clear cut to a casual observer - especially one who only sees you for a few hours a week. Even if someone thinks they recognise you, there will be room for doubt, and this only increases as you get older (and hence further from the photos).

I think it is prudent to think in advance about how you will react if someone ever brings the photos up: do you cheerfully admit it? Deny it? Tell them to grow up? Forewarned is forearmed. However, I don’t think you should let this influence your career path going forward.

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    Thanks for your reply. I'm not that bothered about students or even necessarily colleagues who are not my superiors stumbling across it (and the search terms under which these photos and vids are posted are pretty random/unlikely to be used by most people); I wouldn't have a problem dealing with their reactions. I'm just concerned about the hiring process for example, if this will have any impact on it, and also if someone (a random person perhaps) connects any professional photos I have with the nsfw ones and starts to harass me or send links to my employers, etc. – user122455 Apr 9 at 10:02
  • Sorry, I might seem really paranoid at the moment! So far it hasn't caused me any problems of course, as I got into my master's and PhD, and have had an online presence while these vids were floating around, but now that I know about them I feel more worried. – user122455 Apr 9 at 10:03
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    @secretkeepcup Certainly it is possible that someone discovers a photo and uses it against you. However, I think it is relatively unlikely that someone stumbles across a photo at just the time they happen to be on a hiring committee. Even if they did, it seems unlikely that they would want to admit to it in public, although it might colour their personal views. – avid Apr 9 at 10:47
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Presumably a modelling release grants copyright to the photographer. There's probably a load of boilerplate legal text in the release too. There might be some clauses regarding responsibilities. Such clauses may hold parties responsible for enforcement, which could define legal responsibilities regarding restriction of distribution (i.e., enforcing copyright).

You did not (knowingly) grant the photographer rights to distribute material on porn sites. They have not taken adequate action to restrict distribution. Surely they must accept liability.

Read the release, see if there's anything that puts the photographer, or ideally a large company, on the hook for policing. Even if there isn't, have a quick chat with a lawyer, see what they can do. (I wonder whether there's a legal fund that can help, should you need to hire a lawyer.) Perhaps - and it's a big perhaps - you can force someone to quash distribution or at least limit it. I don't even know whether that's plausible, but it's surely worth a few hours to look into.

I appreciate that I haven't answered your actual question and I apologise if you've already considered all of this. I just figured that getting rid of material on porn sites would eliminate the need to consider whether they'll cause harm. Personally, I don't think they would nor should they.

Academic abilities compliment modelling/acting abilities, I see no ethical nor moral conflict either.

That said, dinosaurs may be morally outraged, hold deluded opinions, etc. You're above those people though.

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    Thanks a lot for your reply; I don't have the release anymore. I've been trawling the internet looking for where the pics have been posted, and it seems they're all over on random sites and even on random twitter bot accounts. Seems like they've just been spreading via downloaders or something. I'm going to try and fill out Google's right to being forgotten form as well. – user122455 Apr 9 at 8:14
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    IANAL, but I don't think the photographer has any liability of the photos are stolen and republished. Copyright holder has a right to enforce copyright but not an obligation to do so. – Dmitry Savostyanov Apr 9 at 11:18
  • @DmitrySavostyanov The photographer is absolutely liable if the release says so. A fair release would give and take; a thorough release would include provisions around enforcement. So, it is plausible for a fair, thorough release to place reasonable liability on the photographer, whether the OP's release does, we don't know, it all depends on the legal wording. – user2768 Apr 9 at 13:12
  • So, the photographer asks a young unprofessional model to sign a release which makes the photographer liable if photos are leaked. Next we know, the photographer puts photos on the internet where anyone can download them. Hmmm... did you use the word plausible? – Dmitry Savostyanov Apr 9 at 21:53
  • @DmitrySavostyanov makes the photographer liable if photos are leaked. Not at all: The release has legal mumbo jumbo that reads just fine and seems innocuous, but, when you dig into the details it has loads of consequences that neither the photographer nor the model had anticipated, only the lawyer did. I've found many legal documents to be incredibly cunning, when written by a good lawyer. Of course,the lawyer is looking after the client. But, let's be honest, we didn't expect the Internet to turn out how it has. So, mutually beneficially clauses at the outset, may harm the photographer now – user2768 Apr 10 at 7:36
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There are many great responses here. I agree them mostly. I want to point out few things. First thing is not to panic. Although your employer has any right to do anything about your private life we can resonably assume that at least some admin people might be worried about "public image" or "parents complaining". Which of course may cause them to "deprioritizing" you unofficially. Although I think there is a chance that this can come out, I think you should be just fine in most cases.

Currently, most image searches do not use facial recognition. However yandex do use facial recognition. Here is a Vox article about it. Although this tools are still at infancy, if we consider how invasive data driven online tools have been in the past years and the lax nature of data protection laws, one can only image reverse image searches will get only better.

Now, I reiterate, this is quite unlikely. First of all who would reverse image search you? Definitely not an employer. A creep, maybe. And I can not image a creep student going to his/her friend saying "look I have been stalking prof. secretkeepcup, and found these nude pictures that looks like her/him.". Imagine how big of a weirdo this would make the creep look like. Stalking cut the both ways. I don't think anyone would be comfortable to discuss his/her findings stalking you. Especially because of the following.

There are currently may technologies that can fake pornographic content. Photo editing has been around even in Stalin's time, there is something called deepfake which can fake videos, including audio. Now, if someone were to find your NSFW media, there is no reason to believe this media is not fabricated. It would be ackward to bring it up with other people (say students or colleagues). It would be inappropriate for someone to ask you directly. And even if you were asked, you can easily deny it and claim it is either a look alike or a fabrication. Now, I leave you alone with the ethics of denying (as it is lying) but it seems somewhat unlikely that it will every be needed.

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  • Thank you! I'm slowly panicking less but it's hard for me not to since I have anxiety problems anyway. I agree that it's very unlikely anyone would ever come across it and recognize me. Claiming it was faked is an interesting suggestion! – user122455 Apr 9 at 12:04
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    @secretkeepcup if you don't have problem with lying, it is a very reasonable explaination. Even today, it is hard to tell apart if a video is fabricated via deepfake. Imagine how it will be in 5-10 years. – Boaty Mcboatface Apr 9 at 12:09
  • I don't have a problem lying about this in particular haha. Hopefully it never comes to this! – user122455 Apr 9 at 12:12
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    I think it is social acceptable to tell one's friends that you googled the teacher and found funny things. That this will not be acceptable once you can search for videos I canmot believe. – user111388 Apr 9 at 13:17
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Sadly, the answer is yes, it can hurt you. But you can also assure that it hurts you very seldom and very little, assuming you want to remain in a relatively "liberal" society and not one dominated by fundamentally misogynistic principles.

First, you have to assume that, no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to completely remove the images. The web is too dispersed to make it even possible. And things, once removed, can pop up again in the future. It is still worth the effort, I think, to try to get them removed and to use what laws and other pressures are open to you to do so, but the efforts are too likely to fail.

But, you can still be proactive in lessening the damage if you just admit, as you did here, that you made mistakes when you were younger and less mature. People mess up. It makes us human. We can't claim perfection. Many people, starting out, are embarrassed by their past behavior. But they learn from it and move on. Some of the past behavior was public enough that it can come up again in the future. Admit to it. "Sadly, I messed up. But I needed the money and had no other resources. I've moved on." You don't even need to be ashamed of your past actions. You were in some ways, perhaps many ways, a victim. More people, I predict, will commiserate with you than condemn you. But most people won't ever know in the first place.

I certainly don't recommend bringing it up yourself in any context. I don't recommend lying about it if someone asks. That might result in greater harm to your career than the images themselves. The past is the past. It can't be changed so there is no option but to own it. Only the future can be affected by our actions. But none of your professional work will be marked with an asterisk and a footnote.

But do what you can to stomp it down if the images start to reappear.

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    +1, for the general message, but, do you believe the OP has something to admit? That they made a mistake? Messed up? – user2768 Apr 9 at 13:58
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    @user2768, that is a subtle point. Thanks. Victims, don't, of course, need to admit error, but I can't really comment on the OP's details. They may have done, or not. – Buffy Apr 9 at 14:06
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    Thanks for your advice. I'm trying to remove the images and vids from as many places as possible, but because there are so many bots/automatic uploads, I don't think I'll be able to get all of them. The man whom I was 'seeing' was fairly older than me (I was a sophomore in college) and was clearly manipulative in ways, but I do feel like this is largely my fault too, for being with him at all. – user122455 Apr 9 at 15:12
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    I can't agree with admitting to mistakes here. First off, having risque photos of yourself taken isn't inherently a mistake, but more importantly, if there's nothing to connect you to these photos besides a loose "that looks a bit like her..." then a far better answer is to just deny it's you and move on. – Jeff Apr 9 at 19:27
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    @Jeff, the issue of admitting mistakes is discussed in these comments and I don't disagree. But it is hard for me to accept that suggest straight up lying or denying facts is good advice to any academic. Your practice may differ, I suppose. – Buffy Apr 9 at 20:07