What is Real? AI Pornographic Images at a New Jersey High School and The Truth About Human Dignity

Our friends at Protect Young Eyes have been sounding the alarms about sextortion and artificial intelligence for months, encouraging parents to talk to their students about these dangerous realities before it becomes a reality in their own life.

They were right. 

This morning I woke up to a disheartening news article from CNN.  Pornographic photos of high school girls in Westfield New Jersey were circulating around the school. The biggest shock? The images were fake.

The photos weren’t real. These girls were victims of AI deepfakes, nude photos generated by one or more of their male classmates using a free AI app.

And it wasn’t just a handful of photos. There were thirty-four girls victimized. 

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, and that it will never happen again. But the overwhelming majority of deepfakes are pornographic according to the experts. 

We’re not in Kansas anymore 

While my heart breaks for these girls, the reality is, there are photos of everyone everywhere on the internet. And you or your child could be next.

This isn’t the quaint black and white world of motion picture television. We’ve been hurled into a whirlwind of high-def images that are larger than life… or at least, different than life. From seemingly harmless things like Snapchat filters to convincing Photoshop alterations… we may as well be in the Land of Oz. If images can be altered and reality can be virtual… we need to ask ourselves, what is even real? How do we immerse ourselves in this alternate reality and expect to find our way back home?

  1. Talk about Technology

When it comes to navigating the latest technology, Protect Young Eyes helps parents discuss digital safety with their kids, researches the dangers of the most popular apps, and suggests appropriate tools for internet use. An effective campaign has been Wait Until 8th, encouraging parents to restrict phones until the 8th grade. Even then, we see this New Jersey incident on a high school campus, and I think we can all agree that there is no magical age that could prepare you for this kind of assault. No matter our age, we need to constantly remind ourselves what is true

  1. Remember What is True

While digital tools provide us with amazing things – access to endless information, a global economy, and new medical research – is that where true life is found? 

Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life”. This isn’t just a salvific claim. It’s an epistemological one! As Christians, we believe that God Himself provides the very basis of knowledge and reality. If it’s true, it will agree with God’s Word. God established and sustains reality. He tells us how the world works… what is good and evil, what is right and wrong, what is the truth and a lie. In a world where deepfakes make us question reality, it’s more important than ever to know what is true. True life is found in Jesus.

In a world where deepfakes make us question reality, it’s more important than ever to know what is true. True life is found in Jesus.

Ashley Giovannucci

Scripture repeatedly emphasizes the dignity of the human body (Psalm 139:14), the importance of human connection, and the value of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).

We need to encourage one another to find real life outside of the screen. One of my best friends lives in Florida and as much as I love our Facetime calls and text exchanges, my sweetest memories are the annual trips we make to see each other in person. No wonder Paul often talked about longing to see fellow believers face to face (1 Thessalonians 2:17)

While social media influencers garner massive followings, I love the way Phylicia Masonheimer routinely reminds her followers that she does not know them in real life. She cannot be their community. We can be anybody online, but the people who see us day in and day out, witness our reactions, and see how we treat others, are the only ones who truly know us.

As a parent, this might be an inconvenience for you. My best friend growing up lived 45 minutes away, yet our parents modeled selfless sacrifice of their time and gas money to drive us back and forth every other weekend to make sure we saw each other in person. And it’s important.

The harsh reality is, you or your child may very well be the victim of this kind of digital assault, but if your real life is filled with personal connection and friendships, it’s going to matter a lot less what happens on a screen. That’s not where real life is found. And that’s not where your value is found either. 

If your real life is filled with personal connection and friendships, it’s going to matter a lot less what happens on a screen.

Ashley Giovannucci
  1. Recognize Human Dignity

As Christians, we know what is true, what is good and what is beautiful. We need to remind our daughters that, regardless of what someone else says or does, your value and dignity is found in the only One whose opinion truly matters – God. Our bodies are a gift from God and that’s not something that can be taken away from us – no matter the type of assault we experience. 

Perhaps the saddest part of the incident was hearing how the girls were crying after being informed of the incident at the principal’s office, and rather then comfort them or condemn the action, a group of boys stood back and laughed at them. 

What a cowardly thing to do.

We need to raise young men to be protectors and defenders of human dignity. We need to raise our sons to recognize the dignity and value that each human being has. Whether male, female, unborn, elderly, or disabled – every person is made in the Image of God. James 3:9 reminds us that cursing men who are in God’s image is in a sense cursing God. Like Nancy Pearcey shows in her new book The Toxic War on Masculinity, a godly man will always defend and honor people made in the Image of God.

  1. Be a Force for Good

Lastly, we have opportunities in our global world to make a difference. Several of the victims in New Jersey are urging lawmakers and writing letters to President Joe Biden to put laws in place that would protect underage girls and boys. We too can be contacting our lawmakers now. Send an email to your local representative and ask how they are anticipating these problems in your home state. There are already pieces of legislation in California, and we need to see continued safeguards develop around the legal use of AI so we are prepared to prosecute.

We need not sit idly by on the home front either. We have work to do on the frontlines of our homes and in our churches, changing the conversation about sexuality and human dignity. It is only by confidently knowing what is true that we can boldly inspire the world with a Christian vision for human flourishing

This is why we host our annual youth conference on Biblical Sexual Ethics. As the Executive Director, it is my hope and prayer that no student who attends a Pursuit Conference would get caught up in these horrific crimes, that they would defend the value of each person and, if they are victimized, that they would never feel shame over their image being misrepresented because they know where their true value is found. True life is found in Jesus.

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