The news that some enterprising hacker stole as many as 200,000 images from the disappearing-photo app Snapchat thrilled and titillated all the usual corners of the Internet on Friday: Reddit, where users clamored for links and usernames; 4chan, where anonymous posters begged for a full database; and AnonIB, where shady characters speculated over forthcoming “wins.”
And yet, three entire days later, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to find images from the so-called Snappening on the open Web. There should be hundreds of thousands of them, per 4chan chatter. Yet every supposed link to the trove actually leads to spam, deleted files or poorly cloaked malware. And the “searchable site” that rumor promised by midnight Sunday night still isn’t online.
There is so much obfuscation and misinformation around the whole thing, in fact, that many have gone ahead and dismissed the Snappening as hoax.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case. As of Monday morning, a trove of 90 intimate Snapchat videos were readily available on the Dark Web — the one place where these things always seem to survive, even after links elsewhere have come down.
The videos are difficult to verify, as they are not associated with any usernames, time stamps or other metadata, in keeping with a statement made by Snapsaved.com, the third-party app from which the pictures were purportedly taken. Reverse-image searches on several of the videos did not turn up any evidence that they’d been on the Web previously.
Translation: Someone almost definitely obtained some private Snapchat images and videos. But there may be less intimate material than was originally suspected. And for some reason, in very sharp contrast to the Fappening of early September, that material simply isn’t making the usual rounds.
Half the reason for that is logistics. Unlike the Fappening, which was a relatively small, manageable trove of NSFW material, the Snappening includes tens of thousands of images — and the vast, overwhelming majority of them are not particularly sexy, according to self-proclaimed snappeners.
“So far from what I have seen, the mass majority are black screens with text overlayed or just a normal selfie,” one PirateBay user complained. “Nothing sexual in the slightest.”
This is, incidentally, in keeping with research on how people use Snapchat: According to a recent survey from the University of Washington, fewer than five percent of users regularly “sext” through the app.
This also means that would-be snappeners must download massive files, and trawl through tens of thousands of cat pictures and other nonsense, in the hopes of seeing a couple of 10-second nude videos. The obstacles won’t stop everyone, of course. The Dark Web collection was made by an anonymous curator who downloaded the full dump and searched specifically for more titillating material. But in general, it’s a lot of work. Too much work, apparently.
“Huge disappointment. I’d say don’t waste your time,” one Redditor wrote. “Under 300 tiny videos worth keeping, out of thousands.”
But while those practical concerns have clearly proved a large deterrent, there may be something else — something a little more heartening — going on, as well. On 4chan and Reddit, sites that have historically made light of these things, users repeatedly urged others not to download the archive over concerns that it contained child porn.
Meanwhile, on the text-posting site Pastebin, an anonymous user who claimed to be the source of the leaks urged people not to share or download them further.
There is, of course, absolutely no way to tell if the Pastebin user is who he says. (There’s no way to tell if much of the anonymous speculation and rumor-mongering around the Snappening is true, which is why there’s so much misinformation and confusion surrounding it.) But the argument made on Pastebin echoes one that cropped up, with some frequency, in the wake of the Fappening. And regardless of whether it was actually written by the Snappening’s “hacker zero,” it articulates a key existential threat to the anonymous/open Web: Namely, if self-policed communities keep using it for nefarious purposes, actual police (or site administrators, or volunteer moderators, or what have you) will crack down on it.
“Normally, I am completely for the freedom of information and the free flow of content through the Internet; however, this “snappening” will aid no one and hurt us in the end,” he wrote. “… I don’t want to come off as a social justice warrior but we constantly fight on a daily basis for Internet freedoms. If this content is posted/leaked it will just be playing into the hands of the individuals who wish to actively monitor all Internet activity. Please for the sake of the Internet we enjoy and love every day, do not leak this content.”
It’s an excellent point: Just last month, the Fappening inspired users and media outlets (including your author, hey) to call for stricter moderation on Reddit, 4chan and related platforms, where users are generally trusted to moderate themselves. Sites like Reddit have essentially argued that, given the opportunity to do anything without consequence, people will do good — or at least will do no harm. And critics, in a grimmer indictment of human nature, have argued otherwise: Without accountability, people will generally do whatever benefits themselves, even at the expense of others.
The Snappening’s relatively low profile would seem to suggest that both extremes can be true. Sure, Internet miscreants might avoid downloading the trove because most links are spammy, or because the “wins” are too small, or because the top torrent on Pirate Bay takes indeterminable ages to download. Maybe they realize that nonconsensual porn can be found elsewhere more easily and at less personal risk.
But maybe they also realize what hacker zero writes in his Pastebin manifesto: that these gross, invasive leaks don’t just hurt their subjects — they hurt the Internet, too.
“I wish for these images and videos to remain private for the benefit of both the Internet and of personal privacy,” the message concludes. “I wish you all the best and please think before you post.”