The Leaked Photo Phenomenon

by Kimaya Singh


If it were up to Academy Award winner, Jennifer Lawrence, hacking and leaking private photos would join incest, rape, and forced prostitution in a list of what is classified as a sex crime.


When asked about nude photos of her being leaked online, Lawrence told Vanity Fair that “it is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation.”


While the jury is still out over whether Lawrence’s comments are factually accurate, or just an opinion, the scandal she spoke about about has received plenty of heat and coverage in recent months.


On August 31, the internet buzzed with both news and slander regarding freshly leaked photos of several celebrities. A collection of over 200 private pictures of various actors, musicians, and entertainers was posted on “4chan,” a popular internet imageboard.


Soon after, these pictures were distributed to other websites and social networks, causing a stir in social media and the lives of the hacked celebrities.


Dubbed “The Fappening” or “Celebgate” by media outlets, one leak turned into five with celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kaley Cuoco, Dave Franco, Rihanna, Nick Hogan, and Hope Solo being targeted.


While “The Fappening” is probably the biggest celebrity photo leak in recent times, it is not a rare occurrence.


In 2011, a similar situation took place that the FBI called “Operation Hackerazzi.” After months of investigation, the FBI’s Los Angeles Office confirmed the arrest of Christopher Chaney, a hacker whose targets included Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, and Christina Aguilera.


Chaney was charged with hacking into protected systems without authorization, damaging secure computers, wiretapping, and aggravated identity theft and is currently in federal prison serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2012.


In another case nearly a decade ago, Paris Hilton’s Sidekick phone was accessed when hackers guessed that her password was “Tinkerbell", the name of her teacup chihuahua and a name easily available on the internet. The hackers, one of whom was a teenager, served jail time.


There are several such cases that go back not only a few years, but several decades. However, with the ease of access and sharing offered by the internet today, the problem is only getting worse.


The process is changing.


The timeline of the attention paid to these photos doesn’t have an end date anymore. The event  and press surrounding the personal picture doesn’t blow over or disappear. Celebrity photo leaks are now constantly garnering headlines, and said photos are being shared all over the internet at a rapid and constant pace.


No longer does a photo go up on an imageboard and stay there for users to see until taken down either by the website or FBI. Instead, users don’t just look at pictures.


They download them.


From there on, pictures are uploaded and shared on several different websites. With each click, there is an individual making a conscious choice to engage with those images and the internet.


Is that moral? Is it ethical?


With the increasing number of leaked photo instances, these questions are becoming hot topics of discussion. When asked, Emily Biehl, a sophomore television and broadcast journalism major, answered that even though she doesn’t think it is a smart idea to take potentially compromising pictures, “the fact that people proceed to share them just sheds a really negative light on society and respecting other people’s privacy.”


Furthermore, Biehl believes that the problem is much larger than morality and ethics. The issue, she believes, lies in an unfortunate culture of entitlement.


“Even though burglars can easily break your window or get past your security system to steal from you, it doesn’t mean that it’s morally or ethically okay," said Biehl.


While speaking about the leaks, Biehl even criticized the use of the nickname, “The Fappening.” The phrase was quickly dubbed by media outlets to refer to the incident and is a portmanteau of “The Happening” and “fap”- internet slang for masturbation. 

Combined, Biehl believes the words create an ominous yet mocking tone for the situation. The phrase itself, she believes, “ridicules the severity of the scandal and makes something illegal become something comical.”

 "Leaked photo scandals are a big deal but the fact that we view them as juicy scandals and not legitimate stories is an even bigger deal," said Michael Reyes, a sophomore health sciences major.

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