In case you’ve been living under a rock or are otherwise out of the loop, this, in a nutshell, is what you’ve missed:
On September 20th, 2014, Emma Watson, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launched the HeForShe campaign by delivering a speech about feminism and gender equality at the UN. It was well received, with several media outlets calling it “game changing.” Not unexpectedly, there was a backlash, including one particular 4chan user who threatened to leak nude photos of the Harry Potter actress. He set up a countdown clock site, however, instead of the photos, the site revealed it was a viral marketing campaign by Rantic Marketing in an attempt to shut down 4chan and censor the internet. The site talks about the recent nude celebrity photo leaks and states that “none of these women deserve this and together we can make a change.” A couple of hours later, this, too, was determined to be part of the hoax started by the person, or people, behind SocialVEVO (AKA Swenzy) and Fox Weekly (not affiliated with Fox Entertainment). The Rantic site has added a disclaimer stating it is not associated with SocialVEVO, but who knows what to believe anymore.With everyone running around trying to figure out what’s going on, it’s difficult to know what is fact or fiction. It is possible that the stunt is not over yet and that there are more surprises in store. The creator(s) have not come forward as of 5pm on September 24th, so, as of this publication, it is unclear what their motives were. But if it is indeed SocialVEVO’s doing, it is nothing more than another attempt to get attention, as they did with their NASA and Family Guy pranks, and promote their shady botting business.
And yet, amongst the chaos, there are some points of clarity, disturbing though they may be:
- The harassment of women online is so much a part of our everyday digital lives that it was easy for the folks behind this prank to convince us that someone from 4chan was going to release nude photos of Emma Watson in retaliation for her UN speech.
- Pranking the news media, going after Emma Watson, who is an internet favorite, 4chan, and freedom of speech, another obvious internet favorite, are the biggest short-cuts to becoming the most hated person, or group, of the moment. Everyone from the mainstream press to 4chan hackers are trying to dox them right now.
- For Emma Watson, she personally found out the hard way that the internet is not always a safe space for women, especially if you are an outspoken celebrity. And it is not always unsafe in the ways one can anticipate.
It is surprising that this final point is currently the least discussed as the prank unfolds today. It is easy to forget in the media fracas and search for the person/people behind the prank that Emma Watson is an individual; a woman who wanted to say something important to the world who instead had her message derailed by a prankster. In addition, through this prank, Watson had her image co-opted, her reputation damaged, threats made against her, and suffered harassment. Not to put too fine a point on it, she has every right to be pissed for being blindsided by this unusual illustration of why the battle for women’s equality, despite the incredible gains we have made, is not yet won.
What’s unfortunate is, assuming there are no further developments in this prank, Watson is in a no-win position as far as how to respond. If she presses charges or sues, which I believe she could for defamation if nothing else (DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer), she will be criticized by the free speech absolutists, not to mention those who will say she can’t take a joke. If she does nothing, she sends the message to women that online harassment cannot be successfully fought, not even by the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She can make an official statement denouncing the prank and then move on, but again, actions speak louder than words, and a strongly-worded statement doesn’t usually solve anything.
As things stand now, it appears there are no winners in this hoax. As discussed above, Emma Watson has been personally affected and has some tough choices to make, the idiots behind Rantic are getting intense blowback at a level that they likely weren’t anticipating, the media is angry for falling for it and the public is left angry and confused. And those looking forward to a revival of The Fappening, were very disappointed indeed. Hoaxes are only successful if someone finds it funny and so far, I don’t hear anyone laughing.