Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.”
In case you missed his hastily deleted tweet, here is Ricky Gervais blaming the violation of a woman’s body on her. pic.twitter.com/Uck6krEGVd
— Emily Reynolds (@rey_z) September 1, 2014
Ricky, you were great in “Muppets Most Wanted,” but this is wrong. (Also, apologies to anyone who reached this by googling “Ricky Gervais nude pics.” This is not what you wanted.)
This whole story of the Hack That Found Everyone’s Nude Photos is — yes, certainly a story about privacy, celebrity, consent and the security of online accounts (who knew “Sex Tape’s” cloud panic would be anything like prescient?) — but it is just as much about what it’s like to grow up on the Internet.
According to Mashable, the list of celebrities whose images may have wound up exposed include Aly and AJ Michalka, Aubrey Plaza, Avril Lavigne, Amber Heard, Gabrielle Union, Hayden Panettiere, Hope Solo, Jenny McCarthy, Kate Upton, Kate Bosworth, Keke Palmer, Kim Kardashian, Kirsten Dunst, Lea Michele, Mary-Kate Olsen, Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Winona Ryder and Dave Franco. The complete list is telling, because with a few exceptions, they are all female and young enough to have come of age online. The two who admitted the pictures were authentic — Lawrence and Upton — definitely fall into this category.
The Internet is where we keep our stuff. Good, bad, and neutral — it’s all there somewhere, either shared with friends or kept between ourselves and our closest Facebook advertisers and dearest data harvesters. It’s where we keep our lists of ideas, our pictures, our music libraries. It’s a living room, a library, a complete rogues’ gallery of everyone we’ve ever met that we can access from our pants-pockets, sometimes by mistake.
For as long as we’ve had Facebook, baby boomers and folks of the vintage of Ricky Gervais have been reminding us, with all the smugness of people whose misspent youths could be documented by nothing more quick, portable and permanent than a Polaroid camera, that the Internet was like drinking with an elephant: It would remember everything, and you would be embarrassed.
“Don’t put anything online you don’t want potential employers to see,” they kept saying, as though the Internet were not the only place we might feasibly put anything.
And then, more dangerously, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to wind up on Facebook.”
No. This is a terrible standard. We millennials have gotten by by ignoring it — reasoning that there is enough material there from each of us that destruction is mutually assured. Between old MySpaces and Livejournals and bad untagged pictures — there is no one whose web history, broadcast, would not shock and mortify the world. We all know this, and so we decide not to make this our standard. The alternative is stultifying.
But this does not stop the wagging fingers.
The situation of this hack is obviously different in several major ways: The iCloud is private, not public. These pictures were hacked. They were not willingly posted. This kind of hack is not the average experience — celebrities are explicitly targeted to be explicitly targeted.
But it’s this same frustrating principle: that it’s on you not to do anything that might wind up being taken out of context and blasted across the Internet, not on other people to respect your right to a private life — or admit that a private life for a celebrity can exist at all. It’s the abolition of context. It’s the idea that if pictures exist, your mysterious Future Employer deserves to go tearing through pictures of your friends at parties in high school when you had that unfortunate hair, that you can never say, “Well, I think that Future Employer should stop being creepy and mind his own business.”
Those who don’t live public lives still experience some variant of this: the one tweet when the whole Internet goes silent, turns to point fingers at you and you lose your job at Arby’s. Or the one picture that gets pulled from your Facebook when you make the news and used to demonstrate that you were whatever certain people want you to be — not an honor student but a thug, as powerfully illustrated in the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag.
And we need this to stop.
The solution to this problem is not to abolish context. This is some people’s conclusion: no nude photos, ever. Nothing that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.
Well, one of the joys of life is that you can do things that you don’t want to share with the entire world. If you are nude while showering or in the privacy of your living room, and someone spots you with a long-range lens and distributes these images around to his sweaty friends, he is the one arrested for being a pervert, not you. The same standard should apply here. The answer is not to stop doing things that could be taken out of context. That would be the worst outcome.
Ricky Gervais and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. It is a shame that someone did this — violated privacy, took no account of consent. It is not a shame that these pictures exist or that they were in the cloud in the first place. It is not wrong to make mistakes, to be young, to be beautiful, to have pictures, to make jokes you’ll regret. It would be worse not to.