We’ve seen stories of celebrity phone hacks before, but the currently developing story of a massive theft of personal celebrity photos appears to be different. Potentially dozens of actresses, athletes and singers, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, were targeted. The stolen property reached the masses all at once. And at its core, it was a massive violation of personal privacy, which more and more people have experience with, as the internet works its way into each corner of our lives.
And so appropriately, the conversation has changed. If you look on Twitter and Facebook, there’s obviously still those who are eager to see the work of these criminals for themselves, but more and more people are speaking up for the victims and changing the conversation.
As more details from this case come to light, there’s sure to be additional talk about how this happened, who was responsible and how we can stop it from happening again. That being the case, we should all know how to talk about this kind of thing: even if it’s not a celebrity, photos and texts can spread through schools and towns, and changing how we all think about and discuss these violations is the first step to making things better for the victims and worse for the criminals.
Don’t call this a “leak.”
Let’s look at this in a more literal way. Imagine you’re in a canoe and water begins to seep in through a hole in the floor. That’s a leak, a failing of a vessel that was otherwise thought safe. You can see how the comparison is made with iCloud – which reportedly is the source of the most recent hack – but what if you found that someone had swam under your boat and had taken a drill to it? That changes things.
Calling what happened a “leak” makes all of this seem too much like an eventuality, where no one is to blame. Systems fail. Boats can fill up with water. It happens.
This, however, doesn’t just happen. As actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead pointed out, these photos weren’t just there for anyone to take. Like that guy with the drill under your canoe, this was a deliberate attack, and that’s how it should be treated.
Let’s think of another word than “scandal.”
Thanks to the likes of Olivia Pope, “scandal” connotes something a little sexier and willful than the stealing of personal photos. Because regardless of their contents, the photos contained nothing scandalous. Merriam-Webster defines a “scandal” as, “an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong.”
Was it wrong of those stars to take photos? It might not have been the wisest thing to do, but that’s their business. The only immoral element is the actual theft and distribution. We should be more inclined to call that a crime, because no one would ever call a burglary a scandal.
Don’t suggest people not take nude photos.
You might have seen this since-deleted tweet from comedian Ricky Gervais floating around.
Hackers, don't hack into people's private lives. Gervais, stop victim blaming. It was NOT JLaw's fault. pic.twitter.com/xqAzQUAa3t
— marnie⁸⁸ (@ppreponlovato) September 1, 2014
People, not surprisingly, didn’t react well to this. Gervais has since explained what he intended with that joke and that his comments don’t equal him sharing his true feelings, but his words bring up another point because of how often they’ve been repeated in the days since the photos spread.
There would be nothing to steal if there were no photos, right? That’s an undeniably true statement, but it also creates a framework to the conversation similar to how using “leak” takes the emphasis away from the perpetrator. Sub in “credit cards,” “cash” or “flat screen TV” for “nude pics,” and it doesn’t seem that reasonable.