Tech by VICE

Why the 'Fappening' Keeps Happening

More hacked celebrity nudes have been released, which says a lot about the people posting and consuming them.

by Roisin Kiberd
Apr 12 2017, 7:15pm

Photos by Georges Biard and David Shankbone

Three years ago the "Fappening" brought porn into the evening news headlines. Hollywood stars—Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence among them—had their iClouds hacked, and almost 500 photos were published—showing mostly women, mostly naked—none of which were intended for the public's eyes.

Now we have Fappening 2.0, a new trove of stolen photos posted to 4chan, Reddit, and anywhere else you'd expect to find hacked naked images being shared. First, in mid-March, the victims were Amanda Seyfried, and long-term target of sexually-frustrated Potterite trolling, Emma Watson. Tuesday, it's Rosario Dawson, Suki Waterhouse, and Miley Cyrus.

It was always claimed that there would be more to follow after the Fappening's first wave. These new images might have been excavated from the original hacker's collection, they might have been stolen by a completely different person, or be the result of a collective working together. Watson and Seyfried have already begun legal action against "Celeb Jihad," a site currently refusing to take down the images.

After the first Fappening, stars described the leak as "devastating" and "degrading," and "a sex crime." Meanwhile, Apple stressed that the iCloud had not been breached, and that the actresses had been targeted individually. The FBI traced the hack to a number of sources, before eventually charging Ryan Collins, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for phishing schemes run between 2012 and 2014.

This fallout did little to deter an army of fap-hunters. Fappening-themed blogs and forum threads have persisted over the last few years, and the new hack takes up where the previous one left off: Users are sharing the images just as before, assessing them for their legitimacy, and teasing the next "promised" wave of photos.

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What surprises me about these Fappenings—aside from, you know, the horrendous disregard for these celebrities' privacy, and the fact some people feel perfectly entitled to breach it—is that so many of the women had already appeared nude onscreen. We knew Emily Ratajkowski as the topless star of the "Blurred Lines" video; Dawson did a full-frontal nude scene several years ago in Danny Boyle's film Trance; Paz de la Huerta has appeared without clothing in pretty much all of her best-known roles.

To me, it seems this signals a move away from the pornography of content—i.e. a fully-naked image being more valuable than one where the subject is only topless—and toward a pornography of context. With a stolen image the value is doubled: The woman is naked and the viewer isn't supposed to be seeing what they're seeing.

4chan has a habit of tracking down nude pictures of even the non-famous women who irk them. Below image posts the users call for "sauce," slang for "source," i.e. personal details of the woman in the picture. Where does the picture come from? Was it taken from a hacked account against the subject's will? The greater the struggle to acquire it, the more valuable it becomes. If the subject is judged to be annoying, a feminist, or a "Social Justice Warrior," the "sauce" will be more delicious still.

The dialogue around Emma Watson is especially relevant here. What makes the prospect of her pictures so powerful? Yes, she's beautiful, and famous, and the legacy of her role as Hermione Granger appeals to Potterite fanboys. But there's more to it: Watson has spoken in the past about how fame impacted on her growing up, how tabloids rushed to sexualize her, and how photographers laid out on the ground outside her 18th birthday party to get up-skirt photos. She has also repeatedly aligned herself with a very moderate, media-friendly brand of feminism, antagonizing n00d-hunters even more.

And now her photos have leaked, except that they haven't: The "private" images are from a clothes fitting several years ago, and in them the actress is fully clothed. This isn't the first time Watson has been targeted by a plot that turned out to be wishful thinking. In 2014, a site appeared with a countdown clock and the message "Emma You Are Next." It turned out to be a hoax concocted by a viral marketing firm.

One of the images announced as a "hack" on multiple "Fappening" websites, which was actually a cover shot for 'Candy' magazine

Conventional porn reached its saturation point years ago, back when women started to claim it for themselves and openly enjoy it (some will remember this as an era of empowerment, others, as a time of "Female Chauvinist Pigs.") Perhaps in response, and fueled by the "desensitization" of which so many porn addicts mention, fap connoisseurs moved into more dangerous territory. Themes of "cucking"—watching other men have rough or demeaning sex with one's wife—aggression, humiliation, and rape-simulation have endured.

Armchair pillagers get off on what is stolen. Revenge porn, hacked images, and "creepshots" captured without the subject's knowledge are more powerful than mass-produced porn, because they are taken without the subject's consent.

It's telling that, during his trial, Ryan Collins—the man behind the first Fappening hack—was also found to have run a modeling scam which involved tricking his targets into sending him nudes. Ordinary girls were as good as celebrities for his purpose, as long as each had been violated in some way.

People will argue that these women "shouldn't have taken the pictures in the first place," a position as futile as arguing they should give up on owning smartphones, too. Through sexting, flirting, dating apps, late-night DM exchanges, and encrypted messages sent between lovers, technology is now bound up in human sexuality. This practice is certain to continue, and just because these people have a public profile, doesn't mean they should have to stop doing what the rest of us are up to.

It's likely that the leaked photos will continue, too. But what can change is how we regard those who publish and share them, and how we respect the privacy of the victims. Consider one of the "leaked" images of Miley Cyrus, which ironically enough turns out to have been lifted from a magazine photoshoot. In it, Miley's wearing a white swimsuit, high-cut, and tight fitting in an almost pornographic way. It's printed with a slogan: "My pussy my choice."

Follow Roisin Kiberd on Twitter.