Sometimes I wonder if anybody even deserves technology. Last week, a collection of personal photographs from celebrities’ phones—including those of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst—taken from iCloud were leaked online. Most of the photos showed the celebrities in varying degrees of undress, and the incident has since become an international news story, sparking debate about the nature of privacy in the Internet Age.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people who had their photos leaked: You take some photos of yourself for whatever reason—maybe you wanted something to show your significant other, maybe you just wanted to see how you looked at an angle the mirror just couldn’t get. The point is, you’d never think those photos would be seen by anybody else besides you and whomever you chose to share them with. Then, those photos get leaked online. What you thought was a moment of private intimacy has now become something public and highly embarrassing. Something as basic and essential as a cellphone is something you’ll never be able to trust again with your personal information. Some of your friends and family don’t look at you in the same way anymore—and that says nothing of the innumerable leering masses who have actually sought out these photos. The fact that the situation is wrong seems more than obvious. So why are so many people online blaming the victims for the leak?
A common argument posed by many members of internet forums is that the celebrities had it coming because they are public figures, and shouldn’t have been taking lewd photos of themselves if they didn’t want other people to see them. This line of thinking, however, is the epitome of victim-blaming.
We’re faced with two possibilities: One is that the people making this argument actually believe it. The other is that they become willfully blinded—that in blaming the victim for the leak, they absolve themselves of any conscious or unconscious guilt they might have felt for looking at the photos. They are no longer burdened with having to think about whether what they’re doing is wrong. Neither option is very comforting, but the latter at least puts a human face to the whole argument—albeit not excusing it in the least. After all, it’s far easier for everybody to blame one person for society’s transgressions than it is to hold everybody to a degree of accountability.
What’s easy to forget is that those who leak photos and make awful comments about them online are actual people. The anonymity of the internet is what allows this sort of thing to happen. More and more, it seems like a blanket excuse to act like the worst possible version of yourself, and because of this, many of the news stories covering the leak have painted those who view and share the photos as ‘basement dwellers’ or ‘teenage boys.’ The reality of the situation is much more unsettling—many people commenting on the photos are far from that stereotype: They’re the lawyers and baristas and students that we see every single day on the street They come home after a long day at work and get onto the internet where they post the most hateful things imaginable.
People find power in the anonymity they’re given because nobody can hold them to any set of standards when they’re online. People say and do things they would never say or do in person. They allow themselves to be hypocrites because there’s no record of statements they can be contradicted with. Instead, they find conflicting statements from people who have chosen to be unanonymous who criticize the leaking and label them as the hypocrites. We live in a world where those who are brave enough to put their name on something are mocked and derided by the masses on the internet, while the latter are able to go on taking away people’s right to privacy and security.
A quote from Futurama’s Professor Hubert Farnsworth says it best: “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”