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Southwest Airlines’ ‘cyberflashing’ incident is a reminder of AirDrop’s dark side

Southwest Airlines’ ‘cyberflashing’ incident is a reminder of AirDrop’s dark side
[Photo: Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons]

Thanks to technology, women can now be harassed anywhere perverts have internet access—even up in the air. A woman flying on Southwest Airlines was subjected to a barrage of dirty pictures thanks to an anonymous jerk AirDropping pornography to her while she was trapped on a plane.

AirDrop is a normally handy Apple feature that allows people to wirelessly send photos and other content to nearby iPhones and computers using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. But not everyone sends photos with the best intentions, and women are often harassed with AirDrop requests. While rejecting a request is easy enough, the problem is that the request itself features a preview image that is large and lewd and hard to ignore. This high-tech harassment is known as cyberflashing, and the only way to make it stop is to turn off AirDrop, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, or teach men not to harass women.

According to USA Today, the woman on the Southwest flight was just chilling in coach when she got an AirDrop request featuring an “inappropriate image.” She turned off Wi-Fi and then realized she should document the harassment, because a woman’s emotional labor is never done. She then turned the phone back on to take a screenshot of the sender’s name (which was a “NSFW take on Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit,” according to USA Today) and was rewarded with two more AirDrop requests, including a video and another graphic photo. That’s a lot to handle at any time, let alone on a 9 a.m. flight from Louisville.

The woman was naturally incredibly uncomfortable, particularly at the thought that she could be sitting in the same row as her harasser. (AirDrop senders must be within Bluetooth range of whoever they’re trying to reach.) She decided to ask the flight attendants for assistance. To their great credit, one of the flight attendants immediately jumped into action, picking up the plane’s intercom and telling “‘Mr. Baggins’ to immediately stop AirDropping.” Since AirDrop is anonymous and difficult to trace, the person responsible was not apprehended.

Cyberflashing is well known to women who ride the subways or walk down public streets or sit in restaurants or play at the park or exist with technology in the modern world. In order to avoid getting unwanted photos, iPhone users must switch their AirDrop settings from “Everyone” to “Contacts Only” or “Receiving Off” or “Dismantle the Patriarchy Already.”

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