Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Fappening and a Right to Privacy

The so-named Fappening that occurred earlier in the week showed the prodigious, but highly unethical skills of internet hackers. A variety of private nude pictures and videos belonging to female celebrities were leaked to the public at once. An invasion of privacy on this grand a scale produced a great variety of homemade naked pictures and videos meant only for a very small, private audience. Often these were meant to be shared with husbands or partners alone. Some of the pictures were vanilla, but others qualified as hardcore pornography.

Despite being admonished to not partake by a variety of sources, I have viewed the full list to see for myself. Knowing what I know now, I can understand why female celebrities are rightly indignant that their private lives have now become public domain. If it had been me, I would have been mortified. The Internet deprives everyone of privacy and those who have become prominent in the public eye need to recognize that crucial fact, even though it is deeply unfair.

Before I go even further, I don’t wish to sound like a hypocrite. I have taken intimate pictures and videos of myself at the request of a partner, but she was good enough to delete them shortly after we broke up. I destroyed the only copies I had on my end. I hope they no longer exist in any form. A more vindictive person might have leaked the pictures and videos I sent her, following our breakup. These situations don’t only occur to celebrities, but when they do, their boosted profile amplifies their severity.

Privacy is only a façade, a fact that is especially true when one is feverishly trying to avoid one’s naked image from being spread all over the Internet. Once, some years ago, while trolling a file sharing program, I had an online conversation with a member of a small English town. The nude images of a female ambulance driver from his village were mysteriously leaked to a file sharing program. It had become the talk of the town. I’m sure situations like these have happened multiple times ever since high-speed internet was introduced

Social media has created conflicts between privacy and a right to publish any person’s image online. Schoolteachers are urged not to keep a Facebook account, since it is likely that curious students will visit and potentially find evidence of private, adult behavior. A friend of mine who is a certified therapist deliberately adopted a pseudonym on social media so that her clients will not be able to access personal information. In today’s information age, we leave increasingly larger and larger footprints.

One of my sisters posed nude for a website. She was paid for her effort, unlike the celebrities I’ve mentioned, but she has come to expect that someday she may be held accountable for her decision, which is approaching ten years ago. No image posted online ever goes away. My sister’s experience is a bit different because she consented to her images being used and was financially reimbursed for them. That said, she now expects to be recognized by total strangers. Though she took an assumed name, she signed away the rights to her image and part of her freedom in the process.

An ex-girlfriend of mine was attacked by a vindictive ex-boyfriend in similar fashion to the Fappening. Enraged that she had terminated their relationship, he created a website with her name as the title. There he posted self-shot photos of her that he had taken in a variety of very compromising sex acts. Her cellphone number was posted on the front page, meaning she received crank calls for a full week until she finally acquiesced and changed phone numbers. He sought to humiliate her, and succeeded.

Celebrity by its very definition means the end of privacy, even though it shouldn’t be. The more well-known we are, the more likely it is that an audience will want to learn more about us. To be safe, it’s probably best to not even take pictures or record videos of a salacious nature. Most of the images I viewed were as part of the Fappening were little more than glorified selfies, but others were much more risqué, crossing the line from soft core to hard core. A few of these documented images were arguably degrading to women, very odd to find in many whose persona is superficially that of empowered womanhood.

I’m not blaming the women who decided to record pictures and videos for the benefit of boyfriends, or husbands. I’m instead inclined to suggest that celebrity means that people will root around in garbage, seeking to uncover details of a personal nature, provided someone wants to view it. Fame means a desire for interest, but no one cares about a person out of the public eye. If the hacked pictures were of women whose ship has sailed, no one would have cared.

Follow the money. If money is involved, one forfeits privacy for all the trappings that celebrity provides. No one could have foreseen the role of technology and the scope of it until the present moment. What we do with our image is ultimately ours to decide. I want to be careful not to be seen as blaming the female celebrities who have now lost some of their privacy.

What I am suggesting instead is to be very careful to avoid the possibility of having private images become public. We all should be cautious at letting any shred of incriminating evidence become everyone’s conversation. As technological advances continue, I suspect that these sorts of leaks will become more and more prominent. Either we live our lives without caring what people think about us, or we need to be cautious of the digital images and videos we produce ourselves.

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