Photo: REX USA/David Fisher/Rex.
Emma Watson received some good news today, when a threat to release hacked nude photos of the actress online, turned out to be an elaborate hoax.
Still, Watson can't be feeling totally at ease, because at the heart of it all, a troubling truth still remains: Speak out as a feminist and risk being victimized online.
The initial threat emerged after Watson's moving speech at the United Nations, where she introduced the HeForShe campaign, a call to action for men to join the gender-equality movement. Despite being universally praised for her impassioned words, Watson also drew the kind of Internet backlash that has become de rigueur for women who come out as feminists. Most of the vitriol emanated from 4chan, the anonymous bulletin board that became ground zero for the hacked celebrity nude photo epidemic.
Following Watson's speech, an anonymous user posted a disturbing website featuring a doomsday clock, and threatened to unleash the stolen photos once the clock ran out. In a bizarre turn of events, the clock struck midnight Wednesday and redirected users to an online campaign aimed at ridding the web of 4chan.
"Join us as we shutdown 4chan and prevent more private pictures from being leaked," a message on the site read. "None of these women deserve this and together we can make a change."
While at first it seemed like the work of some altruistic, Internet freedom fighters, the site is actually the brainchild of notorious Internet pranksters, operating under the guise of a phony viral marketing firm called Rantic Marketing. In a facetious letter to President Obama, which was also posted on the site, they claim to have been hired by a group of celebrity publicists to help stop the proliferation of illegal celebrity photo hacks.
"The recent 4chan celebrity nude leaks in the past 2 months have been an invasion of privacy and is also clear indication that the internet NEEDS to be censored," the letter reads.
As Business Insider points out, Rantic is actually the work of a collective known as SocialVEVO, and this isn't the first time they've tried to capitalize on Internet trends for publicity. In 2013, they achieved major notoriety when they created a similar countdown site after the death of the Family Guy dog, Brian, promising a major announcement from the deceased pooch.
Unfortunately, the trend they tried to exploit here is far more severe than the untimely death of a cartoon dog. Amanda Taub of The Vox wrote that despite the threats being a hoax, they still have a "chilling effect," and that whether it was perpetrated by Rantic or by 4chan users, "the harm from those threats persists even if no photos are released."
Soraya Nadia McDonald of The Washington Post tied the threats to "a long history of this sort of bullying aimed at women on the Internet, especially feminists."
When the Emma Watson site first emerged online, it wasn't met with skepticism, but with outrage. No one thought to question its veracity, because in light of recent events, there was no reason to. With online attacks against women becoming more frequent, we need women like Emma Watson to feel empowered to speak out. These kind of pranks are not effective or funny.