Scamming the Scandal: Photo Leaks and Feminism

Allison Otto

Allison Otto

Feminism related to technology and privacy

Allison Otto, PsyD
The Institute for Advanced Psychological Training
Allentown, PA

The Internet may be used as a source of victimization or activism.  Recently, certain trending stories involve both.  Since the summer of 2014, there have been several leaks of personal, nude photographs of over 100 well-known celebrities (primarily women), including actor Jennifer Lawrence.

In response to the unauthorized release of her personal photos, Lawrence reported in a Vanity Fair article (2014, October 8) “It is not a scandal.  It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting.  The law needs to be changed, and we need to change … Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame.  Even people who I know and love say, ‘Oh yeah, I looked at the pictures.’  I don’t want to get mad, but at the same time I’m thinking, I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.”

According to Erin Fuchs (Business Insider, 2014, October 10), the sites that hosted the images of Lawrence and others may be legally protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which “provides immunity from liability for websites that publish information that’s provided by other parties.”  While this does not protect the website publishers from criminal prosecution for hosting child pornography, hosting nude images of adults is generally protected.  Fuchs does mention that copyright law is a legal recourse for the victims of this crime if they had taken their own nude pictures.

While the article trended on Facebook and Twitter in mass support of Lawrence’s interview, many of the comments posted on Vanity Fair’s website were not supportive.  Comments included links to pornographic sites, and statements that Lawrence and other celebrities gave up their right to privacy when they obtained celebrity status, that people should not take or store naked pictures of themselves to begin with, or that Lawrence is a hypocrite because she posed for the cover of the same Vanity Fair issue with “massive cleavage” showing.  These statements in response to Lawrence’s interview somehow attempt to justify the release and viewing of nude photos without someone’s consent.

While this gross invasion of privacy is a human rights issue, women have been targeted significantly more than men, making this a feminist issue as well.  Feminist views on the Internet are often targeted.  Women who post feminist content on their websites are subject to derogatory insults, sexual harassment, threats against their safety, and attempts by hackers to destroy these websites (Kennedy, 2000).

The release of Lawrence’s statement in the Vanity Fair article came weeks after the Internet sensation that was Emma Watson’s speech about gender inequality and launch of the “He for She” campaign as reported by Geraldine Cooper (The Telegraph, 2014, September 22).  Watson, the Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, gave a moving speech about the fight for gender equality and the need to change the word “feminist” as synonymous with “man hating.” The “He for She” campaign encourages men to join the feminist movement.

While the Internet can be a resource for terrible crimes, privacy violations, and perpetuation of misinformation and harmful ideology, it can also be a source of inspiration and activism. Feminists, like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson, who aren’t allowed to have their voices heard, as well as men and women who aren’t afraid to continue the conversation on the Internet, provide a platform for the feminist movement to propel forward.


Kennedy, T. M. (2000). An Exploratory Study of Feminist Experiences In Cyberspace. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 3, 707-719.

Editor’s Note: Allison Otto recieved Division 46’s 2014 Student Dissertation/Research Award.


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