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YACHT’s Sex Tape Hoax Took Advantage of People’s Empathy for Revenge Porn Victims

When promotional stunts backfire...

by Dan Ozzi
May 10 2016, 4:12pm

via Yacht's sex tape website

UPDATE: YACHT have apologized and issued a statement on the situation. Read it here.

Never blame the victim. That’s the mentality the social media age has attempted to foster on cases of abuse and sexual assault. And on the surface, it’s a good one. Victims have used social media as a powerful support tool in combating harassment that otherwise would’ve gone unreported. But what happens when said victim is full of shit? That’s the position the dance-pop duo, YACHT, put fans in yesterday when they announced that a sex tape they had made together had been stolen and leaked online.

The band made the announcement on their official Facebook page, pleading with fans for empathy and understanding:

“Just because we are public figures does not mean we asked for this. Like anyone, we still deserve to have a choice about what we share with the world. Today we no longer have that choice. But our hope is that you fundamentally understand that choice and you choose not to view a private act that was inadvertently made public. We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal. This is an exploitation.”

Fans chimed in to show their support by the hundreds. “Fuck this,” one wrote. “We will continue to support you. In fact, I hadn't yet bought your newest album but I'm going to go do that right now.”

“You have always held such integrity, you didn't lose any of that integrity today. You were violated and victimized,” said another.

It even made the band some new fans. “[H]aven't heard your music, to be honest, but I appreciate and empathize with your situation, and that you've taken the time to reach out to your fans and the general public to explain what happened,” said a commenter.

Only three hours after making this post, which has racked up over a thousand Likes, they followed up by announcing that they were going to fight the theft of their sex tape by distributing it themselves for $5 via their website:

“This video is out there now. We can’t change that. But we can try to be ’as YACHT as possible’ about it and take some kind of ownership over what has happened. So we’re asking you one thing: if you feel like you 100% have to see this tape, don’t stream it on some tube site, or download a torrent. Instead, we beg of you to download the video, Louis C.K.-style, directly from us.”

Music blogs, who are typically so desperate for this sort of clickable non-music music story, posted the news at face value, given that it was, after all, an official statement from the band. Pitchfork, the Los Angeles Times, and Billboard all recycled the band’s statements into news posts. Vulture went full Beyoncé in expressing support with the headline: “YACHT Got Served Lemons When Someone Leaked Their Sex Tape; Will Make Sweet Lemonade By Selling It Themselves.” “Charity has never been sexier,” their post concluded.

But something was fishy.

For starters, three hours also seems like a pretty quick turnaround time to decide to own the video and set up an age-gated website accepting credit card purchases.

But beyond that, no one had ever seen YACHT’s alleged sex tape. A quick search of Twitter for “YACHT sex tape” prior to the band’s announcement resulted mostly in links to Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape (which took place on a yacht). If the leak was reaching such a critical mass that YACHT felt the need to publicly address the problem themselves, you’d think someone might have actually watched it.

Even after it was officially “released,” the only people who had actually viewed it were celebrity fans of the band who started tweeting about it around the same time. Miranda July tweeted that she had downloaded the tape, and very graciously provided a link:

Eric Wareheim, of Tim and Eric fame, had a pretty strong take:

The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, who has hung out with the band before, tweeted a blurry screenshot from the tape:

Nick Thorburn from Islands also jumped in, with a cheeky nod, which has since been deleted:

In fact, the only photos going around looked like this—G-rated, night visiony screenshots. Typically, once a sex tape is leaked, the internet is flooded with graphic photos and pirated links. But the only things going around were harmless, non-descript screenshots.

Over at THUMP, my colleague Michelle Lhooq was one of the few reporters who did her due diligence and had her coworker fork over his credit to purchase the sex tape but was directed to a 404 message, indicating that so many people were downloading the tape that it crashed the server.

YACHT’s post started to go viral, and, as someone who appreciates a good troll on the gullibility of an overworked/understaffed media, I could immediately spot this as commentary stunt. The clues were all there in YACHT’s post:

“Music isn’t art anymore, it’s just content. We don’t need to write yet another op-ed column to describe the intricacies of why mid-level bands like us are in trouble.”

As the post continued, they tipped their hand even further:

“Our tastes in the bedroom might seem uncommon to some, and possibly off-putting. But considering the variables that go into any sexual experience, wouldn’t anything seem uncommon, and possibly off-putting?”

Come. On. They were trying to entice you into watching this thing. They stopped just short of including GIFs with the post and saying, “Some might say inserting these bizarre objects into our orifices is impossible while riding a motorcycle that is jumping ten buses, but please respect our sex life.”

Even sex tape leak victim Kim Kardashian, who YACHT mentioned as an example in their post, seemed to catch on and throw out a subtweet:

Jezebel, who yesterday reported on the leak, has published an updated story, referring to an email the site received from YACHT's Claire L. Evans on April 6, informing them that they would be faking a sex tape for the video, "I Wanna Fuck You 'Til I'm Dead":

"For the upcoming music video for our song, “I Wanna Fuck You Til I’m Dead,” we’re faking a sex tape leak.

In the days leading up to the video’s release, we’re going to pretend we were hacked, share and delete confessional social media posts on the subject of our privacy, then try to “get out in front of it” and sell the sex tape, fake a server crash, etc."

Evans has been reached for comment by Noisey but has not yet responded.

And today, the video, which is an innocuous, SFW kissy face video turned alien horror movie, was released on Pornhub:

As a promotional stunt for their music under the guise of a media troll, though, this story was a huge success. YACHT and their alleged sex tape dominated the news cycle for a good half-day, which is about the maximum shelf life most viral stories have. They got more attention for this story than they did for their generally unremarkable 2015 album, and the previous stunts around it, like their distribution of a song to correlate with Uber price surging. This was the most they’ve been in the news, well, ever.

But by trolling the media to prove a point about what entices salivating bloggers, YACHT indirectly did something horrible. They took advantage of their fans and their empathy for someone suffering a serious crime. YACHT violated the trust on which the premise of “never blame the victim” is based.

The recent nude photo leaks of high-profile celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence have spotlighted how insufficient the laws are surrounding revenge porn. Currently, only 31 states have laws in place against revenge porn. Lawrence was direct about the severity of the crime in Vanity Fair: “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It's disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change.”

In so many instances like Lawrence’s, the victim will be accused of leaking the photos themselves as a publicity stunt. YACHT did exactly that, and have reinforced the notion that scandalous leaks are done to seek attention. This will undoubtedly make it harder for people who have genuinely been victimized to come forward in the future.

Many people (usually women) who have sex tapes or illicit photos of themselves leaked online face an arduous and humiliating process of having them removed. John Oliver did a strong segment about this last year, which focused on one single mother who ran up insane legal fees trying to sue the revenge porn site that hosted nude photos of her. In extreme cases, as the segment pointed out, women have had to register the copyright of their own bodies by taking more nude photos of themselves and mailing them to the copyright office in DC. Account hacking and revenge porn are heinous crimes with devastating ramifications for the victims. Many have had to resign from their jobs, or, in the the most extreme cases, have attempted suicide.

The two members of YACHT took advantage of all of their fans who were willing to help and support them through something that has ruined the lives of so many. The band made new fans, they sold more albums, and they got their name in the news. But at what cost?

UPDATE (12:50 PM): YACHT's PR representative has claimed no responsibility for the situation:

UPDATE (3:27 PM): YACHT has issued a statement on the video. See below:

Dan Ozzi is on Twitter - @danozzi