US actress Bella Thorne this week shared her own naked photos online after a hacker threatened to make them public. The 21-year-old said that after 24 hours of being blackmailed (and being made to feel “gross” and “watched”), she wanted to take matters into her own hands – and shared the snaps on Twitter.
The images, she said, had been taken with the express purpose of sending them to her long-distance partner.
While several celebrities have come out in public support of Thorne’s decision, actress and presenter Whoopi Goldberg told the audience on US talk show, The View: “I don’t care how old you are, you don’t take nude pictures of yourself.
“Once you take that picture it goes into the cloud and it’s available to any hacker who wants it. And if you don’t know that in 2019 that this is an issue, I’m sorry, your age does not – you don’t get to do that,” she said.
Fans of Goldberg defended her argument, saying she was simply explaining how easy it is to exploit modern technology and that women must be aware of the risks. Others have suggested she was victim-blaming or even slut-shaming.
“People have been enjoying sensual imagery since the prehistoric times..."”
Thorne isn’t the first celebrity to fall foul of hackers. In 2014 Jennifer Lawrence and a number of other celebrities had naked photos posted on 4Chan and Reddit, as part of a mass hack of iCloud accounts. And it’s not just celebrities.
Anyone who uses their smartphone to take and share images runs the risk of being hacked – just as anyone who uses online banking risks their money and credit card details being stolen, or private conversations made public if you choose to chat on social media or messaging platforms.
“People have been enjoying sensual imagery since the prehistoric times,” Knight tells HuffPost UK. “Cavemen would carve, draw or sculpt provocative images of themselves or loved ones, so it’s only natural that this desire to view and share sexual imagery has trickled down into the modern day.”
Not only is the sharing of nude images commonplace, says Knight, it can also have positive results for relationships, especially those – such as Thorne’s – that are conducted at long distance.
“They help to build positive anticipation towards a sexual experience. They also show self confidence, and confidence within a relationship,” Knight says. “They can keep things spicy even if you are miles apart, so are great for long distance lovers, and to top it off they can help to create a physical memory of a sensual moment, something that will last a lifetime.”
Instead of telling women to stop taking them, why not better educate them about mitigating risk? Common precautions include: don’t send nudes to people you don’t know or don’t trust; always send them on encrypted platforms; and don’t include your face in the image.
The reason why is because, many suggest, women can’t win. Celebrity or not, women can be blamed for taking private nudes when those images are used against them in public shaming or revenge porn. In the absence of their own nudes, they can become victims of deepfake – when face-swap technology is used to superimpose their faces on pre-existing pornographic imagery.
Even when women are sent pictures of other people’s – mainly men’s – genitalia (cyberflashing), they are sometimes blamed for inviting or enabling the harassment to happen, as victims have previously told HuffPost UK.
As a society we seem to find it easier to tell women to not wear short skirts, not get drunk, not have AirDrop turned on, not walk alone at night, not take nude images of themselves, than it is to tell perpetrators to stop their bad behaviour.
Not only can sending nudes be a positive in a relationship and a great way for women to express their sexuality, according to Knight, it’s not illegal – unlike revenge porn, blackmail and sexual harassment.
Why is it still a decision whether to blame victims or those who have broken the law? The answer seems obvious.