The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Racy Jennifer Lawrence photos surface, sparking Internet frenzy amid reports of massive celebrity-photo leak

Jennifer Lawrence ( John Shearer/Invision/AP)
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About two years after a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for hacking and posting nude photos of A-list actresses to the Internet, we might be on the brink of another big scandal involving the digital privacy of celebrities.

On Sunday, the Internet practically melted down when racy photos, allegedly of celebrities including “The Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence, started surfacing around the Internet. As with any report of nude photos, people immediately questioned the authenticity. But the frenzy picked up when Lawrence’s publicist confirmed that these were stolen photos, and promised that there would be legal action.

“This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence,” her representative said in a statement Sunday evening.

Buzzfeed reported that the Web forum 4chan was behind the leak, and that a “master list” of all the hacked celebrity photos includes Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Kate Upton, Lea Michele, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, among others.

Winstead spoke out about the hack via Twitter. “To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves,” the “Scott Pilgrim v. the World” actress tweeted. “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

Justice, a Nickelodeon actress, tweeted that the “so called nudes” of her were fake. Pop star Ariana Grande’s rep told Buzzfeed that the photos of her client were not real.

Although Hollywood stars frequently complain about their privacy in real life, security in the digital sphere has become an exceptionally tough challenge through the years — mostly because leaked photos are big business. In 2012, GQ ran an in-depth profile of Christopher Chaney, the man who received the 10-year prison sentence after stealing photos of actresses. He found multiple racy ones of Scarlett Johansson, who “tearfully” testified at his trial. The GQ article delved into the “murky territory of the celebrity-skin underworld,” and detailed the huge, high-stakes amounts of money involved with stolen nude photos and videos of stars posted online.

“Even without permission, less scrupulous publishers will test their luck, uploading the pictures to rack up page views, then taking them down if they’re served by lawyers,” the story said. “Between ad revenues and new subscriptions, a single photo can bring in as much as $50,000 a day.”

As of Sunday, mainly sites including 4chan — where the photos were first posted under the forum /b/ — and Reddit were posting the pictures. For those unaware of 4chan, here is a description by The Post’s Caitlin Dewey: A “profoundly popular, largely anonymous message board that specializes in memes and mischief,” while the forum /b/ is “best known for its penchant to sow stupid, occasionally dangerous ideas across the wider Internet.”