- James Charles caused big waves on Twitter when he posted his own nude photo after hackers accessed his iCloud and Twitter accounts and threatened to leak nude photographs of the star.
- He’s not the first celebrity to do so this summer – Bella Thorne arguably started a trend when she chose to post several nude photos of herself alongside texts from hackers threatening to leak them, too.
- Whitney Cummings also did the same earlier this month, marking a distinct shift from the way celebrities have reacted to nude photo leaks and hackers in the past.
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It’s a trend that surely no celebrity wants to be a part of, but seems to be becoming more and more commonplace. James Charles joined it on Saturday, after he became one of several YouTubers to be hacked by seemingly the same person or group targeting internet-famous AT&T customers.
In a series of now-deleted offensive tweets posted by the hackers on Charles’ Twitter account, the person or group who obtained access to his iCloud data threatened to post a nude photo of him. Once Charles reclaimed his account, he posted it himself. It’s not R-rated, and the beauty YouTuber has shown almost as much skin before in his Coachella outfits, but it spawned hundreds of thousands of online reactions and memes anyways.
Most of the reactions were negative. Charles responded to one reply that said “literally no one asked for this” with “yeah well i didn’t ask to have my security and privacy threatened either […] so this is me taking back ownership of the situation, move on with your day.”
His response echoes Bella Thorne and Whitney Cummings, two celebrities who dealt with their respective nude photo leaks this summer by taking the narrative into their own hands. On June 15, Thorne tweeted two iPhone Messages screenshots and a statement, with several nude photos of herself pictured in the screenshots, which appear to be her texting with the person or group who she says hacked her.
“I feel someone has taken something from me that I only wanted one special person to see,” Thorne wrote in her statement. “He has sent me multiple nude photos of other celebs, he won’t stop with me or them he will just keep going. For too long I let a man take advantage of me over and over and I’m f****** sick of it, I’m putting this out because it’s MY DECISION NOW U DONT GET TO TAKE YET ANOTHER THING FROM ME.”
Cummings’ experience involved apparent extortion, rather than hacking, because she tweeted on August 12 that she accidentally uploaded a photo that showed her nipple on her Instagram story. Someone took a screenshot of the story before she deleted it, and threatened to publicise it if she did not pay them, so Cummings tweeted it.
How today’s celebrity reaction differs from the 2014 iCloud leaks
The threat of iCloud hacking and publishing or threatening to publish celebrity nude photos first became a major mainstream phenomenon in 2014, during a period politely termed ‘Celebgate,’ but more casually known as ‘The Fappening‘ on the social media sites Imgur, 4chan, and Reddit, where nude photos of A-list celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Kaley Cuoco were leaked.
A collection of almost 500 nude photos were published online without any of the actresses’ consent, in what was initially believed to be a breach of Apple’s iCloud services and was later determined to be a spear-phishing attack.
Five men were eventually convicted in connection with the hacking and publishing of the nude photos, and celebrity reactions varied, with the most prominent victim, Lawrence, telling Vanity Fair that “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offence. You should cower with shame.”
Thorne’s decision to post her own nude photos, and Cummings and Charles following her lead, are decidedly different. Five years after ‘Celebgate,’ this could be in part because of the growing emphasis on sex positivity in online feminist circles, which Thorne has both endorsed and capitalised on, as well as faced pushback on, from people like Whoopi Goldberg who suggested not taking nudes in the first place.
The public response to celebrity nude photo leaks is distinctly gendered. Female celebrities are overwhelmingly the target of hacking attempts and nude photo dissemination, and online communities spread their photos as pornographic material intended for personal consumption. Some websites have cracked down on the behaviour, with Reddit banning subreddits intended for that purpose.
But even now, when celebrities seem to be starting to refocus the narrative of their nude photo leaks, the response varies based on gender and sexuality. Thorne’s Twitter replies are full of people, predominantly men, commenting on the pornographic value of the photos. Charles’ replies, however, are mostly people expressing how disgusted they are.
The differing responses may have more to say about sexism and homophobia than anything else. The last major nude photo leak of a male celebrity was former Disney Channel star Dylan Sprouse, and the reception to his owning up to the photos was a lot more positive than how people responded to Charles.
Of course, like any major happening on the internet, huge swaths of commentators have suggested that each nude photo leak incident was faked for publicity. In Charles’ case, though, there was plenty of evidence to suggest he actually was hacked, and he tweeted that he is potentially pursuing legal action against AT&T.
If companies like AT&T are proving unequipped to protect customers from data breaches – something Apple also had to contend with in the fallout from ‘Celebgate,’ more famous figures will have to answer the question of what to do when your nude photos have been stolen.
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