When I heard about the recent nude celebrity photo leaks, my heart skipped a beat. I, too, was once a victim of online photo theft.
In 2013, a picture of me wearing a Lara Croft Halloween costume was taken from my Facebook page after the company changed their privacy settings. It was initially snatched up by The International Association of Haters. But it quickly went viral, spreading across the Internet with the caption “Fridge Raider.” Fat shaming, body shaming and overall commentary on my worth as a human being – or really, lack thereof – ensued. I was told, repeatedly, that “cows like [me had] no right to live” and that “heifers like [me] should be put down.”
It was beyond mortifying. I crawled into a big black hole of depression that lasted months. Each new “share” or “like” of the photo felt like a violation all over again.
Eventually, though, I decided that I wasn’t going to sit idly by. With the help of my friend and paralegal Terri Jean, I collected the identities of the people posting comments — an easy task, since most pages use Facebook integration.
We sent them a certificate stating they were being “Online Assholes” and asking them to remove their comments. People were surprised that we could track them directly to their Facebook pages. But to this day, no one has apologized. We then sent copyright infringement notices to the Web sites hosting the images, requesting they take them down. That had more success.
I’ve come out on the other side stronger, happier and with a better understanding of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the animosity (and later, support) the Internet has to offer. I even wrote a story about my experience in 2013.
But still, I empathize with JLaw or Kate Upton. At least in my photo, I’m wearing a costume. Fully clothed (albeit showing a little bit of cleavage). The photos of over 100 female celebrities — and one male — were nude.
And because their lives are so public, what little privacy these celebrities have (like taking nude photos to send to their honeys) should be even more respected. Just because we love the movies or music of one of the victims doesn’t give us the right to willingly intrude upon their private moments. We’re all nude at some point, right? Even if just in the shower? So if someone was peeping at you with a set of binoculars outside your window while you showered, all because they liked the work you did at your day job, how would you feel?
I imagine this kind of empathetic leap is hard for more people to make. Somehow, the Internet had made it possible to forget that behind my image was a living, breathing human being who had thoughts and feelings (and, notably, the ability to see the harsh words being posting). Becoming a meme is possibly the most dehumanizing thing I’ve experienced in my life – and I’m counting my rape in that list.
Every time you laugh at someone who’s been turned into a meme, or every time you go seek out these photos, remember that there’s a real person who is the subject of that photo. A real person who probably has access to whatever comment you’re going to leave and who will very likely feel a wide range of emotions based on what you have to say. So let’s just stop feeding into this culture of photo-misappropriation-as-entertainment. If a troll snarks in the forest and there’s no one around to hear, is it really a problem?