Cyberbullying Hollywood

Group of stick figures teasing one in the middle

So, we’ve all heard about (and weighed in on) the celebrity photo hacking scandal that hit the news a couple of days ago. We’ve heard about three beautiful actors/models who had their iCloud photos hacked into, and nude photos of them were distributed online. There are many more than three. But that isn’t the point of this entry.

I have seen every reaction from the lascivious to the mocking, and what tends to emerge more often than not is the victim blaming.

“If you don’t want nude photos of yourself accessed, why do you leave them online?”

“If they thought anything they did was private, they were ignorant.”

“It’s their own fault for having raunchy photos of themselves in the first place.”

And so on and so forth.

There’s one problem with that: it blames the victim.

Let me preface this by saying that celebrities in all walks of fame realize that their lives are lived in a fishbowl. But they are entitled to privacy, and they do get that in many other aspects. It is not for anyone to breach their chosen privacy. Nor is the public entitled to every single element of their lives beyond that which they distribute consensually.

Let’s look at it from the above perspective:

Yes, anything you put online is out there. Nothing is private, everything is permanent. These are warnings I give people all the time, as an educator well versed in all elements of the digital world.

But if it is private – i.e. your iCloud (which is not a public place) – does that make it fair game if it’s digital?

Let’s look at it from the lowest common denominator: let’s remove “nude” from the equation. Let’s just call them “photos”. And let’s remove “cloud” from the equation, let’s just call it “digital storage”.

There are digital storage services everywhere, from Dropbox to Carbonite. These are “cloud-based” services that are private. They are like storage lockers for the digital world. The user is assigned space in the ether, a password (which is purposely required to be strong in nature) and pays, per month or per gigabyte, for the storage privileges which keeps their digital “stuff” off their physical drives.

Cloud-based storage services act like physical drives in every way but physical. They are accessible to the user, they store anything digital, from documents to photos to music, and they are private.

If someone came into your house and took your portable hard drive, jump drive or laptop, took the photos you had stored there, and distributed them, you would be crying bloody murder and you would probably accuse them of a crime.

Would you blame yourself for having your photos (nude or otherwise) stored on that drive in the first place? I’m thinking you wouldn’t.

So why is it the fault of these celebrities to have had their photos stolen? And why on earth is it their fault to have had those photos at all? It doesn’t matter what the nature of the photos were. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the storage was.

It matters that someone took something that belonged to someone else and publicly distributed that material without the knowledge or permission of the owners.

As simple as that.

Blaming these women for having nude photos, or nude photos in the cloud is like blaming the holder of a credit card for the security breaches we’ve seen at Target, and Home Depot.

Blaming these women for having nude photos in a place that is accessible is like blaming the person who has valuable jewelry in a safety deposit box that gets blown open and robbed during a bank robbery.

Blaming these women for having photographs stored in the cloud is like blaming anyone for having anything in their homes after they are victims of a home invasion.

Blaming these women for having nude photos at all is a dangerous practice. For me, it goes beyond just victim blaming in Hollywood.

As a cyberbullying educator, I am alarmed by the trends I am seeing against those celebrities. See, I am always asked “what can a parent do when their child comes home and says they are being cyberbullied?”

Fact: cyberbullying largely goes unreported for fear of being told one has done something to provoke one’s bully.

The first thing you do is assure that child that they have done nothing wrong, nothing to bring about the bullying. Because they haven’t.

Fact: another major reason kids don’t report cyberbullying is out of fear that their parents will take away their device.

So, what you must remember is not to take away the device(s) from your child. It is not the device that provoked the bullying; bullying is entirely because of the perpetrator of the behavior. We don’t blame the device. We don’t blame the victim. We address the behavior by reporting the child who is bullying another, either to his/her parents, the school, or both.

Back to Hollywood.

Factor the above into this situation: those of you questioning the women for having nude photos in the cloud or on their devices are responding in the two biggest undesirable ways we advise against when in a cyberbullying situation. Don’t ever suggest the bullying was provoked, don’t blame the device.

That’s why this situation is a red flag to me. Because I see people blaming grown women for a crime of invasion against them and their property instead of blaming the criminals for invading privacy and stealing property.

Moreover, you are judging them for those photos. And while your judgment will probably never reach or matter to them, it is not your business to sit on the high horse and tell others what they should or should not be doing with their cameras. Or the products of those cameras.

And you are adding to the victimization by pointing a finger at them with a “shame on you” written along its length.

Think about it. What if it were your child? Would you ask them why they took those photos in the first place? I really hope you wouldn’t, because that would instantly trigger feelings of shame, humiliation, regret, self-deprecation, and guilt. No matter how loving you might be in addressing this situation, the message of “why did you…?” is loud and clear, and though they might not show you, they will already be blaming themselves.

Let’s face it – the nature of the photos is irrelevant. I would be just as pissed off if my photo stream were hacked and a photo of my dog were stolen without my permission. Why? Because it is an invasion of my privacy, and a theft of my property.

Let me add that theft of digital or intellectual property posted online is a form of cyberbullying. One of the biggest factors of educating people about cyberbullying is to help them see how it manifests, and it isn’t always in the most obvious ways.

By scoffing at those who took the photos and stored them in the cloud, you are not only condoning cyberbullying behavior (the theft/hacking) but you are joining in.

Think about that.

And please, let’s have a dialogue. If you have comments, questions, critiques – I am here to listen, to help and to educate. The more people who can see how cyberbullying manifests and recognize it when it does, the fewer victim-blamers we will have.

The Hollywood scandal goes way beyond the celebrity magazines. This incident has a much larger message for every parent, every grandparent, every sibling, every aunt, uncle, coach, friend, teacher, principal, guidance counselor.

Let’s talk.

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