In 2014, many female celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, were the victims of hacking. Their personal photos, many of them involving nudity, were leaked to the internet on sites such as 4chan in an event that has been dubbed “The Fappening.” Many believe the hacking was possible largely due to weak security involving iCloud, Apple’s online storage service.
The leak itself isn’t necessarily surprising; there have been many such leaks in the past, but the sheer number of victims involved in this single attack is disconcerting. Another important element is the fact that many internet commentators (on Reddit, 4chan, etc.) were and remain adamant in blaming these women for allowing such private content to be in a position to be leaked. One of the main arguments of these people is that being a public figure opens one up to scrutiny and invasions of privacy, which is certainly true; however, shouldn’t we be critiquing this erosion of privacy instead of accepting it and blaming the victims? This parallels the rhetoric that some use when describing victims of physical sexual abuse as not having done enough to prevent their assault (“oh, she shouldn’t have dressed that way!”). Victim-blaming seems to be even more common when it comes to these cyber crimes. Also reflected are uneven gender dynamics within society, as women are more likely to be victimized in such cases.
One must also interrogate the language used when describing the hacking incident; the word “scandal” is often used (in headlines, in comments, etc.), but this carries the connotation that the victim is somehow at fault. As stated in a Forbes article, this is a “sex crime involving theft of personal property and the exploitation of the female body.”
Just because the images weren’t physically taken by someone in a black catsuit and domino mask while humming the Pink Panther theme, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t clear-cut theft.
The notion of a private device’s content being publicly released and consumed weakens the public-private binary, but not for the creative or thought-provoking purposes we have discussed in class; instead, this has been done at the expense of the subjects, without their knowledge or consent.
Though my stance is quite clear, I am interested in other opinions—- Is it fair to equate hacking to physical sexual crimes, or does the cyber landscape call for different ways of navigating issues of privacy while still being critical?
On the other hand, many already don’t subscribe to the above comparison, but these people tend to be those who consume and share the leaked images. Why is it so difficult for some people to accept the criminality involved with these leaks?
***It might also be interesting to compare this issue to those who willingly post suggestive images of themselves online, only to have them removed. Just a thought!