It seems like everyone has a cell phone these days. Most of us walk around with nice cameras in our pockets, fully equipped and ready to blast our image to whomever we choose. This incredible technology is so commonplace we don’t even stop to think about it.
As I’ve said before, I am pro-selfie. But the selfie has taken on a more sinister connotation over the past month. The ultimate tool of self-love has been turned into a tool of hatred and exploitation.
Yes, I am talking about the latest celebrity nude “scandal.”
Over Labor Day weekend, a hacker (or a group of hackers) breached the iCloud accounts belonging to several celebrities. The victims include actress Jennifer Lawrence, model/actress Kate Upton, singer Rihanna, and many others.
Before we move on, I’d like to note that there is not a single male on the list of people who’ve had their pictures released. Let’s hold onto that thought for a minute.
Not a single male had his photo hacked.
The leaked photos have been released on sites such as Reddit, 4chan and imgur.
In a situation like this, a celebrity has a scant few choices as to how to react. The first is to deny, as Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice did last month:
Option 1: Deny
The second choice is simply to ignore the leak and go on like nothing has happened. Third is to “laugh it off” as no big deal. Fourth and final is to go after the hackers via lawsuits. This is the strategy that seemed to work for Scarlett Johansson a couple years ago—the person who hacked her photos and leaked them is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence.
Lawrence and Upton have both released statements confirming the photos and announcing intentions to prosecute the offenders. Lawrence’s spokesperson responded to the leak with this statement: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”
Any sane person would agree that these leaks are a massive violation.
There are plenty of people decrying the leaks and insisting those responsible be brought to justice. That’s easy enough to agree with. But with situations like this, hypocrisy abounds. Some of the people complaining about the invasion of privacy are the ones scouring the internet for links to the photos. What really troubles me are the people who insist these women “had it coming.” Even those expressing sympathy will turn around and mock the victims for being stupid enough to take pictures of themselves.
In the culture we live in, victim blaming is so common it’s almost expected. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see dozens of articles popping up on various websites insisting that the violation is offensive but inevitable. If you take pictures and allow them to be uploaded to the cloud, they reason, you should be prepared for them to be seen by everyone with access to the internet.
How on earth does this make sense?
These pictures were taken for private use. They were stored on devices with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such technology isn’t impenetrable, of course, but that doesn’t mean people should live their lives in constant fear of being hacked. And if they are hacked, it’s certainly not that fault.
Imagine your credit card information was stolen. How would you feel if someone told you this kind of thing was inevitable—that you knew the risks when you went to the ATM or the grocery. How would it feel to be blamed for the crime someone else committed against you?
It wouldn’t feel good.
It’s also important to consider the fact that many people don’t understand exactly how “the cloud” works. A person can buy an Apple product and take a picture without ever realizing that photo was automatically uploaded to the cloud. Even deleting the photo on one’s phone won’t take it off the cloud.
What’s really frightening is how common this is. It doesn’t just happen to celebrities. There are plenty of “revenge porn” websites where disgruntled people can send risqué photos of their exes. Unlike celebrities, the women this happens to—and the victims are, of course, overwhelmingly female—don’t have the power and money to go after the men who share these images and post them all over the internet.
It’s a disturbing trend, and it’s only getting more pervasive.
This kind of violation is a virtual sex crime. Some of the hackers held photos hostage until they received deposits to their BitCoin or PayPal accounts. This is, simply put, the commodification of women’s bodies, and it’s happening completely without their consent. This isn’t just about sex for the viewers of these images—t’s about the power they feel from seeing women naked without their consent.
Earlier I mentioned the fact that none of the pictures leaked have been of men. The only male depicted in this “scandal” was Upton’s boyfriend, baseball player Justin Verlander, and he was shown in a picture next to Upton. I find it unlikely that a massive undertaking like this (the hacker said it took him two years to build his collection) wouldn’t produce some pictures of men. It’s more likely that the hacker did obtain some male nudes but chose not to share them.
Yes, women were deliberately targeted. Again.
There are so many hurdles facing girls today. They’re constantly bombarded by a media that tells them their bodies aren’t good enough. And “scandals” such as these drive home the message that their bodies don’t just belong to them. It teaches girls that society wants to rob them of their agency and is cruelly invested in taking away their power.
It’s a scary world to live in. There are things we can do though.
The first is to refrain from clicking on these pictures. These women have already had their privacy violated—there’s no need to violate them further.
The second is to not let anyone get away with these attacks. This includes legal action, of course, but it also means calling out those who continue to spread the images. This is something we can all do. We have to make it known that this kind of breach is unacceptable, and that viewing and spreading the pictures is just as bad as leaking the photos.
Lastly, we need to look out for each other. In the weeks since the initial leak, the hashtag “#leakforJLaw” has been trending on Twitter. Ostensibly this was a tag started by women where they would post topless photos of themselves in support of Lawrence and the other victims of the leak. This was, of course, a hoax made up by some 4chan members in an effort to get more photos of naked women. It’s not unthinkable that some women might think of this as a legitimate way of showing support for the victims. That being said, blatant deception like this has to stop. That means we need to protect ourselves and each other and call out schemes like this.
Time will tell if those responsible for these leaks are brought to justice. In the mean time, the inherent misogyny in our culture has to be fought against and weeded out.