There are two schools of thought when it comes to the massive theft of celebrity nudes that has been lighting up certain darker corners of the Internet. One of them is wrong.
Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.”
Ricky, you were great in Muppets Most Wanted, but this is wrong.
This whole story of the Hack That Found Everyone’s Nude Photos is, yes, certainly a story about privacy, celebrity, consent and the security of online accounts. But it is just as much about what it’s like to grow up on the Internet.
The list of celebrities whose pictures were stolen by online creeps is telling: With a few exceptions, they are all female and young enough to have come of age online. The few who have said the pictures were authentic — including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton – definitely fall into this category.
The Internet is where we keep our stuff. Good, bad and neutral – it’s all there, either shared with friends or kept between ourselves and our dearest Facebook advertisers and data harvesters. It’s where we keep our lists of ideas, our pictures, our music libraries. It’s a living room, a library and a rogues’ gallery of everyone we’ve ever met that we can access from our pants pockets, sometimes by mistake.
For as long as we’ve had Facebook, folks of Gervais’ vintage have been reminding us, with all the smugness of people whose misspent youths could be documented by nothing more quick, portable and permanent than a Polaroid camera, that the Internet was like drinking with an elephant: It would remember everything.
“Don’t put anything online you don’t want potential employers to see,” they kept saying, as though the Internet were not the only place we might feasibly put anything.
This is a terrible standard. We millennials have ignored it, reasoning that there is enough online from each of us that destruction is mutually assured. Between old pages from MySpace and LiveJournal and bad untagged pictures, there is no one whose Web history, if broadcast, would not mortify the world. We all know this, and so we decide not to make this our standard. The alternative is stultifying. But this does not stop the wagging fingers.
The situation of this hack is obviously different in several major ways: The iCloud is private, not public. These pictures were stolen. They were not willingly posted. This kind of hack is not the average experience — celebrities were explicitly targeted.
But it’s this same frustrating principle: It’s on you not to do anything that might get taken out of context and blasted across the Internet, not on others to respect your right to a private life — or admit that a celebrity can have a private life at all. It’s the abolition of context. It’s the idea that your mysterious Future Employer deserves to go tearing through pictures of you at high school parties when you had that unfortunate hair, and you can never say, “Well, I think that Future Employer should stop being creepy and mind his own business.”
Those who don’t live public lives still experience some variant of this: the one tweet when the whole Internet turns to point at you and you lose your job. Or the one picture that gets pulled from your Facebook page when you make the news and gets used to demonstrate that you’re not an honor student but a thug. We need this to stop.
The solution is not to abolish context. This is some people’s conclusion: No nude photos — ever. Nothing that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.
Well, one of the joys of life is that you can do things that you don’t want to share with the world. If you are nude while showering, or in your living room, and someone takes photos of you with a long-range lens, he is the pervert, not you. The same standard should apply here. The answer is not to stop doing things that could be taken out of context.
Ricky Gervais and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. It is a shame that someone violated the privacy of these celebrities. It is not a shame that these pictures exist.
© 2014, The Washington Post