The internet has exploded in the last 72 hours because naked photos and videos of over 100 people, several of them high profile Hollywood actresses and models (and most notably 24 year old Jennifer Lawrence) were stolen. They have been posted online for all with an internet connection and rudimentary Google skills to see. There’s two reasons why the internet’s collective reaction to this dissemination of images has really pissed me off.
The first is the presentation of the story, chiefly through clickbait headlines on ‘news’ and entertainment websites, which makes it a foregone conclusion that you should, and in some cases MUST see these images. The type of language I saw used universally online yesterday when the leak first went public painted a picture that as a consumer of modern culture, I’d be an absolute sucker to not ‘click here’ to ‘SEE ALL’. They were the internet age’s flashing neon signs above seedy dens of iniquity. But even worse than that, the pictures seemed a cultural product like a blockbuster movie that everyone would be enjoying simultaneously so you’d better jump on board too, lest you be left behind.
The theft of images of naked women published not just without consent, but explicitly against their will is being treated as a shared cultural experience we should all be discussing at the water cooler at work. As if there’s nothing wrong with talking about a woman’s naked body, who we’ve never met and likely will never meet. That’s inherently wrong.
It’s easy to forget that these people are in fact, people. The idolisation and oversaturating marketing practices that comes with successful film/modelling/music careers means we can easily lose sight of that. But these are images of people, flesh and blood human beings with families and friends, who are being subjected to public shaming because we have all agreed to our entitlement of seeing their naked bodies. We’re entitled to see them because they’re famous. Because they titillate on screen and wear sexy clothes to premieres. Because they took the pictures in the first place. Bullshit. We are not entitled to see the images of anyone naked without their consent.
Though it doesn’t excuse them, I understand the economic imperative for these websites and media outlets to draw as many mouse clicks into their site as possible. They’ll do anything they can to get more hits than their competition to sell more ad space to make more money. What I don’t get was, at the moment when these images first came out, the lack of the internet’s collective hivemind to even have a discussion about whether these were something we should be seeing. CLICK HERE seemed to also mean, DO NOT OVERTHINK, JUST LOOK AT THESE BOOBS. Individuals apparently had no choice in the matter, no ability to actually consider “Should I be seeing this?” Maybe you decided on balance that you were entitled to see the images, but I didn’t see any of that play out online. The apparent lack of any kind of decision-making process is the first thing that pissed me off royally.
The second thing is that we are going to need to evolve beyond this school-boy mentality for online activity. We are living in different times due to present day technology. I’m incredibly passionate about the internet and defending its current architecture because of its openness and ability to transmit ideas, concepts and communication with such minimal barriers between so many of us. That’s a truly awesome power, to be able to get rid of the gatekeepers we used to have who determined what information we’d have access to. Almost invariably, those gatekeepers (governments, TV networks, newspaper and book publishers, record companies, etc.) would have a profit or political motive. Their power has been eroded significantly in the last decade. That power has trickled down to us, the individuals. But like Uncle Ben said: With great power comes great responsibility.
There are powerful and rich individuals who are currently trying to change the basics of how the internet works so they can reclaim some of that power that’s been usurped. They have incredible resources and will use anything they can as ammunition to get the changes they want. That’s why it’s up to us to collectively evolve how we act on this incredibly novel landscape called The Internet. If there’s some far-flung justification they can spin about how ISPs or Governments need more control over the net to stop these kinds of leaks, you can bet next quarter’s earnings they’ll propagandise and use it to try and get legal reform. That’s why it falls to us to not screw this up.
We need to make better decisions about how we behave online. Honestly, we just need to more often apply ‘real world’ principles of privacy and basic human respect to the online realm, because as time goes on, more and more of us are spending more and more time conducting our lives on here. The ‘real’ and ‘online’ worlds are only going to blur together more as more time goes on. So let’s try and make it a better place to be and not allow anyone to take this incredible infrastructure away. Or at the very least, let’s try to think of the individuals whose stolen content gets released for no other reason than sexual objectification for what they are: people with basic human rights. Please think before you click.