As some of you might have noticed, we’ve previously covered the infamous website which leaked many celebrity nudes over the years; the Fappening. But we realised that we had only scratched the surface, and that there actually is much more to the revolting world of nudes hacking.
For those of you who need a reminder of what fappening means, it is a portmanteau of the words ‘happening’ and ‘fap’ where fap means to masturbate and happening, well, you get the gist of it. The website thefappening.com came about because of a group of four hackers who leaked hundreds of naked photographs of celebrities and then sold them in exchange for bitcoins on image sharing sites like 4chan and Reddit. The cheek, huh?
More than half a decade later—how are those celebrities holding up?
Actress Jennifer Lawrence was one of the first celebrities to be targeted after many of her private pictures were hacked from her iCloud. It took her some time to open up to the press about the incident, and by following her trail of comments over the years, it understandably looks like it affects her still.
Back in 2014, Lawrence unleashed her anger in an interview with Vanity Fair, “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she said. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world.”
After filming the 2018 film Red Sparrow, when the actress went nude for a role for the first time, Lawrence admitted that it “scared the hell” out of her, but she went ahead with it with the intention of claiming back what she had stolen from her in the 2014 hack. It was her choice, as an actress, to continue to work professionally.
She brought to light that the nature of the images that were leaked were actually pretty standard, in context. Lawrence had been in a long-distance relationship at the time the pictures were taken, she stated that “either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” Fair enough.
Lawrence said it was hard to come to terms with the fact that someone could just pull out the nude photos at any given moment—and with her level of fame, it means the whole world is that someone. She expressed that she felt like she had gotten “gang-banged by the fucking planet!”
The hackers, Ryan Collins, Edward Majerczyk, Emilio Herrera and George Garofano all plead guilty to felony hacking and the violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Each of them gained access to Lawrence’s accounts through phishing—sending their targets fake password reset links.
The list of celebrities who got hacked that same year and got their nudes stolen was predominantly made up of female stars including Rihanna, Kate Upton, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevingne, Kate Upton and many more.
A lot of women affected by the hack approached Lawrence about potentially suing Apple, among other sites that allowed for this to happen, but the actress said that she had no intention in doing so and was just interested in healing. Privacy on the internet turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword, as Apple made it clear after the hack took place, that they were not to blame. It was her that took action, and followed the hackers prompts into updating her iCloud account details.
As TechCrunch pointed out, Apple offers two-factor authentication. iCloud backups, however, are not protected by two-factor authentication and can be installed on new devices with just an Apple ID and password. “Your email and password are as much protection as almost any service on earth offers you by default—and once a hacker obtains those you’re probably in trouble in any case.”
Celebrities aren’t the only victims of iCloud hacking, according to Business Insider: “There’s an entire message board on a site called AnonIB dedicated to ‘iCloud rippers’ who apparently use similar techniques to steal nude photos from random women. This was going on long before nude photos of celebrities leaked.” And it must be considered that hacking is not exclusive to Apple, either.
Even though Apple has its reasons to defend the loophole that is available for hackers to take advantage of, it is still considered victim-blaming, and although these celebrities have, in some aspects, volunteered to be seen under a public lens, these images were made public without their consent, and maintain their right to a private life. In many cases, what we reveal about ourselves on the internet can very rarely be deleted later. Nudes hacking and leaking is something we all share with these celebrities, and it’s something to keep in mind always.
Video and phone sex, sexting, sending nude pictures, having Zoom orgies, streaming porn, you name it, we’ve probably all done it (or some of it). Months spent in forced isolation have brought what we call ‘internet sex’ to a whole new level. But as you should know by now, the internet is not all good. While most of us were enjoying sexy talk safely, since 23 March the number of people contacting the Revenge Porn Helpline—a service funded by the UK government in order to help victims of intimate image abuse—doubled. The quarantine hasn’t only affected the number of domestic violence cases, it has also seen a surge in online sex-related harassment.
According to Clare McGlynn, a law professor at Durham University interviewed by the BBC for the article Coronavirus: ‘Revenge porn’ surge hits helpline, the overuse of social media mixed with the psychological stress brought by the COVID-19 pandemic might have played an important role in triggering abusive behaviours in subjects already at risk. This resulted in the rise in the circulation of revenge porn.
Revenge porn is a way for partners or ex-partners to impose control over someone; to threaten and shame their victims without physical involvement. The consequences of non-consensual sharing of intimate pictures or videos online can be overwhelming for the victim—in a split second, thousands of people could watch it and comment on it. Beyond the emotional and psychological effects of having to face such public exposure of an otherwise intimate image or video, the victim is then left to battle the removal of the content from the internet as soon as possible, which isn’t always easy, as we’ve learnt from the Fappening scandal.
During the first month of lockdown, over 200 cases were opened by the Revenge Porn Helpline, a disturbing new record number since revenge porn finally became a criminal offence in the UK in 2015. Today, perpetrators risk a maximum punishment of up to two years in prison, and on 6 May it was announced that starting this summer, threatening to publish intimate visual content might also be considered a criminal offence. This would mark a crucial step in the fight against online sexual abuse.
While law enforcement continuously adapts the justice system in response to this somewhat recent form of abuse, online platforms that host revenge porn are equally creating stricter regulations to help contain this toxic phenomenon.
Revenge nudes circulate widely on Facebook, 4chan, Telegram channels and other websites solely dedicated to the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery. In response, victims and activists are calling out the platforms’ civic responsibility to make sure the issue is fronted from all sides. For instance, after facing heavy pressure from its users, Facebook formed a team of approximately 25 people who work on stopping the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
With around half a million reports filed a month, the team has two main goals: actively working to remove the content reported by users and finding potential harming images the second they are uploaded onto the platform.
AI has been used by social media platforms to aid in the identification of hate speech, violent content, fake news and harmful propaganda, and it’s no different with revenge porn. Some believe that AI could recognise revenge porn if it is first exposed to a wide collection of data that contains nude pictures accompanied by sentences such as “look at this” and denigrating emojis in order to perfect its recognition process.
But many remain sceptical about AI’s ability to identify and understand the revengeful context behind the sharing of an intimate image—an attribute that has been classified so far as intrinsic to human empathy. Speaking to NBC News about Facebook’s attempts to ban revenge porn from its platform, Katelyn Bowden, founder of BADASS (Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing), a Facebook victim advocacy group she launched after being a victim of revenge porn herself, said: “I believe they are taking it seriously, but they are looking for a technical solution to a human problem.”
Bowden was invited by Facebook as a consultant in order to help the social media platform tackle its growing problem. The truth is, a team of 25 reviewers is not able to do the job alone, and neither can AI without the support of human moderators, who, according to Bowden, would have to become a much larger team in order to truly have the capacity to respond to the surge in revenge porn on the platform.
The breach of sexual privacy and the non-consensual circulation of intimate content create an unbearable sense of emotional distress and shame for its victims. Responsiveness and a better functioning support from both law enforcement and the platforms hosting this sort of content are strongly needed and could, at least, help victims regain control over something that feels out of their hands. Furthermore, the spread of revenge porn should not be exclusively tackled through filtering strategies; sex education and conversations around consent should be at the top of the prevention agenda.