Word to the wise: Don’t click on these photos, don’t look them up, and don’t even think about sharing them with your friends. The reason? Because this whole thing is looking more and more like an NSA-sponsored “false flag”, meant to do two things:
1. Fearmongering celebrities into subjecting themselves to more-invasive levels of security and lower levels of contact with the public
2. Racking up “child porn” charges for people who just wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence naked (as it appears the download includes nude photos of underage celebrities, as well).
Lawyers for Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney (pictured above) and actress Liz Lee confirmedyesterday that the photographs of their clients were taken when they were underage. Their firms sent cease-and-desist orders to Porn.com as well as Reddit, where users initially posted the photographs in a subreddit known as “The Fappening.”
The photographs of Liz Lee were not a product of the initial hack, but “revenge porn” posted by an ex-boyfriend in 2007 that were shared again in the latest scandal.
One of the moderators of “The Fappening” who goes by the name of “SickOrSane” argued that the photographs of the minors must be removed, or “this subreddit will most likely be banned, very quickly.”
“Effective immediately: any images/galleries/torrents/mega dumps/ etc. containing Mckayla Maroney or Liz Lee will be immediately removed due to the fact that they were underage (<18) in the photos taken,” SickOrSane continued.
Many of the users who frequent the subreddit were concerned about the presence of child pornography on their hard drives, The Daily Dot reports, and were soliciting advice as to how to destroy it. Despite the fact that many users are aiding each other in destroying potential evidence in a child pornography case, Reddit has not yet banned “The Fappening.”
According to Apple, the hackers most likely obtained the photographs by using the option to reset iCloud’s security questions. Given the amount of information available about these celebrities online, Apple contends that their security questions were likely easy to answer.
[“President Barack Obama jokingly mimics U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney’s ‘not impressed’ look while greeting members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams in the Oval Office” via The White House on Flickr, Creative Commons Lisence
Of all the disturbing revelations to come out in the aftermath of last weekend’s “Celebgate” spectacle, perhaps none was more shocking — or more gross — than the fact that Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney says she was underage when her photos were taken.
Maroney, now 18, was one of more than 100 celebrities victimized by a so-called “underground celeb n00d-trading ring,” who strong-armed their way into the women’s Apple iCloud accounts and posted the naked pictures they found there online. The people who hacked the photos already faced theoretical charges ranging from wire fraud to identity theft.
Now they may add a new crime to the list: dissemination of child porn.
Given the seriousness of that allegation (and the legal and PR repercussions it implies), Reddit has been very hasty to address the issue. On Tuesday afternoon, a moderator in the Reddit forum /r/thefappening — the place that arguably did the most to bring the images to a mainstream audience — made a panicked appeal to members to stop posting pictures of Maroney and to delete any existing photos from their hard drives. It also instructs them to stop posting photos of Liz Lee, an MTV star whose underage nude photos were not part of this latest hack but have still been making the Internet rounds.
Which is all well and good for Maroney and Lee, two public figures with publicists and lawyers and a legion of fans on alert for abuse. It doesn’t do much to help other young women whose photos might end up in questionably tasteful forums like /r/randomsexiness or /r/youngporn, where youthful photos are frequent, provenances are unknown and subjects’ ages are rarely disclosed.
“We have very few rules here on reddit; no spamming, no cheating, no personal info, nothing illegal, and no interfering with the site’s functions,” Reddit declared in a 2012 policy change, made in response to a Gawker article that found troves of child porn in forums like /r/jailbait. “Today we are adding another rule: No suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.”
To that effect, Reddit banned a series of forums that explicitly sexualized children in their names or descriptions. But the site did not do anything to root out photos of underage teens in other forums, besides ask that viewers contact the forums’ (unpaid, anonymous and highly political) moderators with specific concerns.
Part of this situation springs from necessity, of course. Reddit is a sprawling beast: In any given month, it can see well over 100 million visitors who view billions of active and inactive pages.
But part of that is also due to the structure of Reddit’s moderation system, a dense hierarchy of volunteers who, for the most part, are accountable to no one besides the people in their forums. Reddit employs only a handful of “community managers” to oversee them, and even they try to stay militantly hands-off. (“We will tirelessly defend the right to freely share information on reddit in any way we can, even if it is offensive,” the 2012 policy change read.) Forum moderators aren’t exactly honor-bound to field complaints, either.
“I emailed an admin about a preteen_girls thread EXPLICITLY showing photos of child porn,” complained one user in 2012. “Nothing was done, NOTHING, which is what I expected.”
And so, Reddit still hosts virtually every kind of filth and depravity you can conceive of — and probably quite a bit that you can’t. There is rape porn. There are collections of dead children. There are many, many nude photographs of women who appear to be just at, if not under, the age of majority.
Are some of them under 18? Probably. Whenever you provide an open, anonymous and unquestioning forum for pornographic images, a few are going to slip below the line unseen.
Reddit did not respond to a request for comment on the issue, and it’s unclear what, exactly, the site could do to better police the issue. It’s impossible — not to mention against Reddit’s core ethos — to pre-screen the millions of links and images that flow through the site daily. It’s also far from fail-safe to slap a warning on a page and hope that users will happily comply.
Perhaps the bottom line is that there’s always a dark side to what Reddit glibly terms “free speech places” online. Maroney, sadly, is not the only victim — nor is her ordeal over. According to the piracy news site TorrentFreak, more than 1 million people have downloaded the #Celebgate photos from PirateBay, where they remain widely available. And Pirate Bay’s policy on child porn makes Reddit’s look strict.
“To report child abuse or other similar unlawful activities, please do so to your local authority,” the site coolly recommends.
The subtext, both there and and on Reddit: Deal with it yourselves.
Nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and several other young female celebrities were leaked on the Internet this weekend. That one sentence will elicit several responses. Some people will rush off to Google to sate their curiosity. Some people will gleefully denounce her as a “slut” or think something to the effect of, Well, she shouldn’t have taken them if she didn’t want people to see. And only a very few people will feel sympathy for her, and recognize what distributing nude photographs without the subject’s express consent truly is: sexual assault.
The subject of nude selfies isn’t new. It’s been covered from so many angles, it’s practically a dodecahedron. Underaged girls sending their underaged boyfriends explicit photos of themselves have been accused of producing child pornography. Men sending unsolicited pictures of their genitals via text message has become so commonplace as to become the new normal. And if there’s a hot young actress or singer who hasn’t yet bared her body to our collective gaze through traditional media, there’s almost always discussion of how she’ll look “when her nudes leak.” We’ve become a society that feels entitled to the nudity of others; consent is not required, just as long as we get our fill of flesh.
The moment Lawrence’s private photos went on public display, social media erupted. Some Twitter users praised her body. Some criticized her figure. Neither seems an appropriate reaction to a gross invasion of privacy. Others bemoaned the low quality of the photos; this line of reasoning implies that if Lawrence was going to pose in the buff, she should have had the courtesy to provide us with the highest calibre revenge porn.
Confusing their personal sexual gratification for genuine compliments, an overwhelming majority — mostly male — responded with images implying that they had ejaculated upon seeing the pictures and jokes about uncontrollable masturbation. Some excitedly shared those images, but announced that they’d lost respect for the actress for taking the pictures they were so shamelessly enjoying.
Victim blaming runs thick in situations such as these. “If she didn’t want those pictures on the Internet, she shouldn’t have taken them.” In other words, the price of these women’s private expressions of sexuality and joyous celebration of their bodies is public humiliation. Very little is said about the people stealing and releasing these photos, beyond the occasional words of gratitude to them for serving up what we are presumably owed.
“Don’t send nudes,” we tell our daughters, rather than telling our sons, “Don’t violate the privacy of a woman who trusted you enough to share herself with you in a playfully sexual context.” We don’t teach our children not to revel in revenge porn, we teach them to put boundaries on their sexual expression, to hide their bodies away, because that’s where the real shame is. Baring another human on a public stage for ridicule and critique is an excusable, even understandable, action.
We don’t tell our sons, “Don’t send people photos of your penis to someone if they haven’t told you they’re OK with it.” It has become commonplace for men to send photos of their genitals in misguided attempts to woo potential partners, or to retaliate against some perceived wrong a woman has inflicted upon them. Why these men see romance and spite as two scenarios deserving of the same response is never examined. In fact, many men seem utterly baffled when their advances aren’t welcomed. “What do you mean you don’t want to see my penis? What are you, some kind of uptight feminist? Some kind of lesbian?”
Perhaps the most offensive aspect of our conflicting attitudes toward nudity and the importance of consent is that while women are derided for their own exploitation, the actions of a man forcing images of his genitals upon his victims are utterly erased when the tables are turned and his behavior is exposed.
As with all cases of sexual violence against women, we look so hard for ways to place responsibility on the victim, or to minimize the harm done to her. “It’s not rape rape,” people will argue. “It’s not like it hurt her.” Having aggressive male sexuality forced upon them is something women are expected to ignore, no matter how degraded they feel. Seeing their bodies thrown on the pyre of public scrutiny is something they deserve, their nude photos the scarlet letter that will brand them for the sin of having sexual urges or confidence in their bodies. “It serves her right, for treating a nice guy like dirt,” we say of revenge porn. “She was a b—-,” is accepted as reasonable justification for inflicting sexual harm.
Sharing photos of naked partners who did not consent to the release of their image, or sending explicit photos to people who did not consent to view them, is sexual violence. If a man walked up to a woman on the street and exposed himself, he would be arrested. If someone broke into another person’s house and took something that didn’t belong to them, it would be theft. A man who bragged about spying on a naked woman and masturbating while doing so may find himself on a public registry of sex offenders. Until we consider the violation of our digital privacy on par with the violation of our physical spaces, we perpetuate a cycle that encourages us to view female sexuality with scorn, and overt displays of sexual aggression from men as the norm. There are only three appropriate responses to this problem: disgust at the perpetrators, unconditional support for the victims, and refusal to reward with praise and attention those who find entertainment in the exploitation and humiliation of women.
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