Twitch streamer Kai Cenat says he's a victim of revenge porn. How technology makes the practice easier than ever — and harder to prosecute.

Kai Cenat poses for the camera at the Streamy Awards.
Kai Cenat at the Streamy Awards in Los Angeles on Aug. 27, 2023. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images) (Christopher Polk via Getty Images)

One of the most popular creators on Twitch, a video livestreaming platform with over 240 million monthly active users, accused an OnlyFans model this week of posting revenge porn, drawing renewed attention to the increasingly pernicious practice.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Jeff Lewis, a First Amendment lawyer, of revenge porn, which he defines as distributing sexual photos or videos of another individual who did not consent to having them distributed. In an interview with Yahoo News, Lewis explained that in cases of revenge porn, sensitive material may have been taken or sent to someone consensually, such as to a partner, or could have been taken without the victim’s consent or knowledge.

The latter scenario is what 22-year-old Twitch streamer Kai Cenat says happened to him. In an April 14 Twitch stream, Cenat claimed that a woman he met in early 2023 has been leaking naked photos and videos taken without his consent on social media to extort money from him. The woman claims Cenat violated a financial obligation he had made in exchange for sex.

Lewis said that many of the calls he gets regarding potential cases of revenge porn involve teenagers who may have sent a picture to someone they shouldn’t have trusted that is now on the internet. But the claims made by Cenat, who has almost 10 million Twitch followers, a Nike sponsorship deal and, he says, a nondisclosure agreement with the woman in question, highlight how little control even those with a massive platform and legal protection have over their own image once it ends up on the internet.

Even if Cenat chooses to take the woman allegedly responsible to court, Lewis notes that the legal system offers little recourse in terms of being able to remove the images and videos in question from the internet because Cenat did not produce them himself.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is part of the copyright law passed by Congress in 1998 that states internet service providers must remove materials from websites that appear to violate copyright. If Cenat had taken the photos and videos himself, he would own the intellectual property rights. Then he could file a DMCA takedown notice against the websites hosting them and request a removal of the content.

“Once the images are out there, you can’t get a court order to take it down,” Lewis explained. He also noted that due to Cenat’s celebrity, the photos have already spread beyond TikTok, where they were first posted, to various other platforms.

“It’s been republished everywhere,” he said.

Revenge porn is not considered a federal crime

Revenge porn has been a source of concern for years — a 2016 study found that 1 in 25 Americans has been a victim of revenge porn, and the statistics have only grown in the last eight years.

The legal system in the United States has not caught up to how quickly the practice is evolving and affecting victims, especially young people. Revenge porn is also not yet considered a federal crime. In March, Massachusetts became the 49th state to pass legislation banning revenge porn, leaving South Carolina as the only state where it’s still legal.

The laws also vary from state to state. In California, where Lewis is based, if someone violates the revenge porn law they are charged with a misdemeanor, and first offenders face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. But in Georgia, where Cenat lives, second and subsequent offenses are considered felonies and the offender can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined up to $100,000.

Social media’s response

In April, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, announced it would be testing new features on Instagram to curb growing concerns about financial sextortion. This, according to the FBI, is when predators pose as someone else online, form a relationship with victims and convince them to take and send sexually explicit photos and videos. Then the predators will demand payment in exchange for not releasing the photos to the public.

In response to the rise in sextortion cases, particularly involving teenage Instagram users, Meta said it will roll out features like automatically blurring nude images sent in direct messages and sending notifications to users if they’ve interacted with someone who has been convicted of financial sextortion.

These new features will be on by default for users under the age of 18, but adults will also be encouraged to enable them on their accounts.

Snapchat has a “zero tolerance” policy for revenge porn happening on its app; TikTok collaborated with the dating app Bumble to block any images from its platform that are flagged by the nonprofit Stop Non-Consensual Intimate Image Abuse, a revenge porn helpline that works with tech companies to help victims. In 2017, X, then known as Twitter, updated its rules to ban revenge porn and other nonconsensual posts.

In Cenat’s case, several of the private photos and videos remain on X, raising questions about how strictly the platform’s revenge porn policies are actually enforced. X did not immediately respond to Yahoo News' request for comment on this story.

Artificial intelligence makes it worse

Simply avoiding taking and sending private photos of yourself is not a foolproof safeguard against becoming a victim of revenge porn. Not only can photos that were taken without the subject’s knowledge or consent end up on the internet — as Cenat says happened to him — but artificial intelligence is also increasingly being used to manipulate consensual photos into AI-generated pornographic images.

These deepfakes — the term used to describe AI-generated images that use real people’s faces and identities — are disproportionately affecting women, according to a 2023 study. They’re easy to make too; the study found that it takes less than 25 minutes to create a 60-second deepfake pornographic video using just one clear face image. The process is entirely free.

Pop star Taylor Swift was a victim in January when explicit AI images of her circulated on X.

“How do you calculate what your damages are from these pictures being out there?” Lewis asked. “[Revenge porn] is a big thing. It’s not always the stranger who pops into your house or the paparazzi with a drone. It’s somebody you think you trust.”