Our reaction to the Emma Watson photo leak speaks volumes

Emma Watson has had private images shared online
Emma Watson has had private images shared online Credit: Action Press/REX/Shutterstock

Does anyone really believe that Emma Watson deserves to have her private photographs shared around the internet?

If someone hacked into your smartphone, stole your personal pictures, and then posted them on a social media platform, you’d be left spluttering with outrage. Why is it any different for someone who happens to act for a living?

It is being reported that Watson, along with a number of other high profile women, has had a  images stolen from her phone and leaked online.

Representatives for the Beauty and the Beast actress have been quick to emphasise that the leaked pictures do not show her nude and are from a costume fitting, two years ago, and that is now taking legal action

Those who argue that Watson and her showbiz colleagues “should know better”, need a serious reality check

Regardless, it seems possible that they do capture her in a state of undress. Amanda Seyfried and Mischa Barton are also thought to be among the other hacking victims and reports suggest their images are more explicit.

The incident mirrors the so-called “fappening” of 2014, which saw naked pictures of female celebrities leaked on sharing sites such as 4Chan and Reddit.  More than 100 women were reported to have had their personal Apple iCloud accounts hacked, including Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Downton Abbey actress Jessica Brown Findlay.  

In the wake of that mass attack, Lawrence called the hack a “sex crime” and said that anyone who looked at them had committed a “sexual offence” and should “cower with shame”.

Spot on. Those who argue that Watson and her showbiz colleagues “should know better” than to have anything on their digital devices they wouldn’t be happy for the rest of the world to see, need a serious reality check.

An oft used analogy is that you wouldn’t leave your house unlocked. That if you park your Ferrari in a crime-ridden area and it gets broken into, then you haven’t got a leg to stand on. Simply, you are putting something of high value somewhere unsafe - in the full knowledge that it’s risky.

Which isn’t all that unlike saying that a woman who wears a short skirt and has a couple of vodkas, only has herself to blame if she’s groped, or worse. The problem with that argument, is that in this case the “object” of high value isn’t a car or house - it’s a woman (only one man was targeted in the 2014 hack; Nick Hogan).

The issue is not that we don’t understand our phones, it’s that we don’t understand the concept of consent

Look, we know that the internet is unsafe and that our smart devices probably aren't as secure as we think. Only this month, we learnt via Wikileaks that the CIA’s "Weeping Angel" programme provided agency hackers with access to Samsung Smart TV. 

But we do have a reasonable expectation of privacy and when criminals (for that’s what they are) hack into our phone and steal (for that’s what they have done) information, the onus should not be placed on the victim not to have had such material in the first place. 

Even in cases of revenge porn, where someone has sent their private images to another person, who has then shared them around - the victim is not to blame. The issue is not that we don’t understand our phones, it’s that we don’t understand the concept of consent.

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In the wake of the 2014 hack - and after the initial anger on behalf of stars such as Lawrence - the mood changed. When photos of Kim Kardashian were leaked, sympathy was in short supply. This was, after all, the woman who made her name via a sex tape and in numerous subsequent semi-naked selfies. We’d seen it all before.

Whatever the nature of the images stolen from Watson, there will no doubt be some people who put forward this line of thinking. Earlier this month, the 26-year-old posed for Vanity Fair in a shoot that was widely referred to as ‘topless’ but which was, in fact, less revealing than many bikinis. She was called a “hypocrite” for daring to promote the values of gender equality on the one hand, yet show her body in a fashion shoot on the other.

Writer and radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted “Emma Watson: ‘Feminism, feminism... gender wage gap... why oh why am I not taken seriously... feminism... oh, and here are my tits!’”

Any reaction along these lines, is just what the hackers want. Theirs is a mission to remove power from women in the public eye, who have taken control of their own image, and make them vulnerable.

It’s why we shouldn’t shame anyone who has had their private images stolen - nude or otherwise. Nor should we look at them online and legitimise this behaviour. The talk around the latest hack might be of pictures being shared on the “dark web”, but you can bet that someone you know will have searched for them. Even the name we gave the 2014 incident was a derogatory reference to male sexual behaviour when confronted with such pictures.

If we play into the hackers hands again, we risk becoming a nation of peeping toms - or worse, as Lawrence put it, “sexual offenders”.

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