The Internet's unceasing influence and insolence

Release of illegally obtained nude photos highlights risks of Internet freedom

On Sunday, the Internet exploded.

Nude photos of dozens of female celebrities including Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, McKayla Maroney and Ariana Grande were released online by a yet-to-be-announced anonymous hacker.

The reaction was immediate, dramatic and disturbing.

Starting with obvious: the perpetrators of this crime need to be caught immediately. Prosecution in cases like this has been successful: Christopher Chaney, who hacked into the accounts of Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis (as well as two other non-celebrity women – “everyday” women are victims of hacking, too, and deserve acknowledgment here), was caught and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012.

This sort of behavior absolutely merits a zero tolerance policy, in order to send the message that even if it becomes trivialized in message boards and joked about online, there’s nothing humorous about the invasion of privacy and denial of female agency that the release of these photos constitutes.

There’s little to editorialize about those responsible for the publication of these images. But the behavior of online users in the wake of the photos’ release is just as troublesome, and it illuminates the increasing immorality on display on social media and message boards.

The Internet is a fascinating place, a treasure-trove of information and entertainment and part of its merit is rooted in the freedom it offers. But, not surprisingly, the limitless nature of the online world comes with a cost, and oftentimes what is expended amidst absolute accessibility is respect, morality and basic human decency.

Even before this photo scandal, recent events brought to light the questionable ethics made permissible, and almost unquestionable, by the anonymity and ensuing (ironic) privacy the Internet provides. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death – his daughter Zelda was tormented on Twitter until she shut down her account, according to The New York Times – and users flocked to view video footage of the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

The response to these photos did little to differentiate from the trend. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton helped spread the photos, a decision he said he now regrets, users on 4Chan and Reddit haggled over the images, proposing trades and making bitcoin offers, while Google searches for Jennifer Lawrence, one of the hacking victims, skyrocketed. The behavior of the Internet populace suggests that any discomfort with the images’ origins could not compete with the curiosity they generated.

And with curiosity came hypocritical proclamations, as users denounced the existence of the images they had searched for and perused, critiquing the individuals whose nude bodies they’d looked at for taking the photos in the first place.

Echoing many of the more high-and-mighty reactions online, The New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton took to Twitter to suggest that prevention of unwanted eyes from nude selfies was simple. His advice: “1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies.”

But more appropriate suggestions that don’t sound like classic victim blaming may read, “1. Don’t steal nude selfies. 2. Don’t share and attempt to sell nude selfies. 3. Don’t look at stolen nude selfies.”