These fake images are disturbing, but so is the reason they exist
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These fake images are disturbing, but so is the reason they exist

Clickbait has been around since before the internet knew about cats, and celebrities are always an easy way to draw people in.

Jennifer Aniston’s never-ending never-appearing pregnancy, Taylor Swift’s utterly unremarkable romantic adventures, Kim Kardashian’s anything: they all send our clicks slithering through to websites selling hatewear for women.

Everything this says about the double-handed grip of capitalism and the patriarchy dictating envy and self-hatred to women has been said many times before, most recently by Jameela Jamil.

But, just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, you discover one more thing you can’t unsee.

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Jessica Rowe is the most recent woman with a public profile who’s been covered in unconvincing photoshopped bruises by a company to generate clicks. A fake image of the Duchess of Cambridge was used in the same way last year.

The images have appeared over the past week, served up in the complicated buying and selling of data and digital space through Google ads. Users who clicked through the fake news headline received the website of a dodgy weight loss pills brand, directed at women who’ve been taught to loathe their bodies and willingly accept a hit to health and finance so they might take up a smaller space in the world.

As revolting as the personal violation of Jessica Rowe is (and it is truly revolting) the larger violation of half the world’s population, highlighted by this one tiny picture, is even more troubling.

These ads are the cumulative effect of companies profiting from women's induced self-hatred, the media sensationalising men’s violence against women, and the casual of objectification of recognisable women.

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I’ve written before about the risks of objectifying women. It’s not just offensive; it puts women in genuine danger.

An objectified woman is not a person, she is just a collection of body parts, interchangeable with any other objectified woman. Both men and women feel less empathy for objectified women; they are perceived as less moral. People are less concerned if they are harmed, less likely to report violence done to them, and more likely to blame them for that violence if it occurs.

Jessica Rowe was objectified in this image because she ceased to be a person, became an object of pity or curiosity and, in the end, was nothing but a sales gimmick. This is just one of the thousands of such images in which we women are casually dehumanised. We barely even notice them.

But the things we don’t notice are always far more dangerous than the things we do.

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Sensationalising violence against women is nothing new. It’s just that media outlets usually do it with real injuries on real women. Women who do not have an army of publicists and social media managers. Women who are suffering though trauma and terror and become part of the 24-hour clickbait cycle.

Research by ANROWS has found sensationalism is one of the most common failings in media’s reporting of violence against women and that this is often driven by commercial interests.

Sensationalism was displayed in disproportionate reporting of female perpetrators despite their relative rarity, as well as a outlets focusing on the uncommon crime of murder and ignoring far more common abuses.

This contributes to perpetuating embedded myths about men’s violence against women which, in turn, increase unfounded fears of "stranger danger" that can constrict women’s lives and detract from the public’s ability to comprehend and empathise with the women genuinely at risk of male violence.

Much greater abuses have been, and are being, perpetrated against women more vulnerable than those photoshopped in these clickbait ads. Rather than being a headline, their abuse is too often forgotten and ignored, and this is only possible because of the culture that rewards the people who created – and profited from – that photoshopped picture of Jessica Rowe.

National sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service: 1800 737 732