The act of sexting -- sending explicit photos or videos through cellphone -- has become more popular among teenagers, but while they see the act as an innocent version of flirting or showing off, they're most likely not aware of the digital danger they may be creating for themselves.


In most cases, teens will send their racy images to a recipient or two with the expectation that the message will remain private. But that's not always the case; some may be forwarded to others, and so on, and all it takes is one email or social media post for that innocent "sext" to take on a life of its own.

"Without question, teenagers' private photographs are ending up as fodder for some seriously bad people, including online pedophiles," said Aram Sinnreich, a professor of media at Rutgers University. "Even the photos that we think are private, that we might keep in our Apple or Google online clouds, can be hacked into and shared with the world."

According to Sinnreich, the second any information is collected on a digital device that can connect to the Web, it may already up for grabs in cyberspace

And once a picture or video is on the Internet, it's there for good.

Sgt. James Hill with the High-Tech Crime Unit of the Ocean County's Prosecutor's Office is among the team of officials nationwide that's attempting to wipe out the constant swapping of explicit photos online.

"The main goal is to eliminate the transfer of the images," he said. "The more locations we take down, the less likely it'll be transferred to another medium and shared."

In addition, the unit has worked with federal and local officials to locate victims of child pornography.

Despite the threat of screenshots, forwarding and social media, young people still take the risk of sending nude or revealing shots from one device to another.

Sinnreich insisted teens have resigned themselves to the fact that the traditional form of privacy is no longer a reality, and they might as well live their digital lives as open books.

However, he warned, the inappropriate material could come back to bite them when they're on the hunt for a job later in life. That is, unless, everyone has changed their standards and values by then, which is possible, because incriminating photos will be a dime a dozen.