The Internet has been up in arms over what The Guardian calls “The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014.” Wikipedia calls it the “August 2014 Celebrity Photo Leaks.” Something about this event bothered me, and I couldn’t place it for the longest time. Yes, individuals should have the right to take pictures without fear. Yes, we should hold Apple accountable and cyber-security should increase.
Then, I realized what I disagreed with in the coverage: one word, celebrity.
Here’s the issue: for the past eight years, Anon-Ib, the 4Chan board, has served as a hub for hackers to post selfies stolen from unsuspecting victims’ phones, with complete anonymity. While the board is still offline for “maintenance,” its offshoot, repository site, anonib.com. remains online.
The activities of Anon-Ib didn’t begin with Lawrence and they won’t end with her. Thousands of individuals, mostly female, have had their privacy violated for years. These people have posted stories on Reddit and across message boards, asking for help to get their images taken down.
There are two problems with the media coverage. The first is the emphasis on celebrity. The thing that really gets my knickers in a twist is the fact that this isn’t a new issue, but one that has affected the lives of numerous people, none of them famous, that has been allowed to persist for eight years.
However, when the media turns its attention to the problem, it focuses on the celebrity aspect of the issue.
Calling it “The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014” makes it sound like this is a new event, an isolated happening, instead of what for some has been eight years of turmoil, and for others, who don’t know that their privacy has been violated, is a public relations minefield that could hurt their careers, academics and emotional well-being when it rears its head. To tie it to celebrity and 2014 is to invalidate the trauma of countless others.
Now, I’m not saying that we should just ignore celebrities. We shouldn’t, and a lot of the supportive comments aimed at Lawrence show how much our thinking has changed compared to previous leaks like Kim Kardashian’s private sex tape. However, when we let the celebrity stories overshadow and hide the stories of other people, it becomes a problem.
Of course, some people will argue that this is a jumping off point to discuss issues. If it was, then it shouldn’t be solely couched in the language of celebrity.
The coverage should tend towards contextualizing the event in terms of broader political context, in this case: revenge porn laws. “Revenge porn” refers to any sexually explicit material that is distributed online without the knowledge or consent of the individual in the pictures.
Online discussions of “revenge porn” have not increased in response to the selfies.
The infringement upon privacy by Anon-Ib affects both celebrities and ordinary individuals across the world. Placing an emphasis on the celebrity element should not come at the cost of the ordinary stories. All of these voices must be heard and only then can real change happen.