A threat by alleged misogynists to leak nude photos of British Actress Emma Watson in retaliation to her feminist speech at the UN on Saturday has turned out to be a baffling hoax, carried out by the same hackers who targeted Family Guy and NASA.
Watson’s ovation-inducing speech attracted the attention of an unusually wide range of media, pundits, stars and readers — Vanity Fair called it “game changing” — sparking excitement among gender equality campaigners that feminism might have found a new, and convincing, voice.
So it was all the more appalling when alleged hackers threatened to publish naked photos of the 24-year-old in retaliation for her “stupid feminist speech”.
The threat was thought to have come from 4chan.com, the website that leaked iCloud photos of celebrities Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Kardashian earlier this month. A pop-up countdown website called “EmmaYouAreNext.com,” with a photo of the actress wiping away a tear, promised to reveal the photos on midnight Tuesday.
4chan members displayed a sickening show of excitement in anticipating the images, suggesting that Watson deserved to be “outed”.
“It is real and going to happen,” one commenter wrote on 4chan’s “b” board, or random image board. “That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman.”
The frothing misanthropes must have been bitterly disappointed when midnight struck on Tuesday. Instead of naked pictures of the Harry Potter star, they were redirected to another pop-up site, “ShutDown4chan”, calling for the closure of 4chan in response to the very kind of photos they were seeking to salivate over.
“None of these women deserve this and together we can make a change,” a message on the website read, followed by an open letter to US President Barack Obama stressing that “the internet NEEDS to be censored”.
While you would expect the website behind the hoax to represent a women’s rights movement or even a group of hackers sympathetic to the feminist cause, Rantic.com, which hosted “ShutDown4chan” and describes itself as “a social media marketing enterprise,” is actually a facade. It appears to be linked to Fox Weekly, a plagiarism-happy “news” site that rips off articles from various sources. According to Business Insider, Fox Weekly (which has no affiliation to the news network of the same name), is run by a “notorious group of pranksters” who go by the names Jacob Povolotski, Yasha Swag, Swenzy, and Joey B.
When FRANCE 24 tried to contact Fox Weekly, calls to the phone number listed on the website went straight to voicemail and delivery to the email address joeyb@foxweekly (supposed chief editor) “permanently failed”.
Fox Weekly is not a known champion of women’s rights. Nor anything in particular — its makers are thought to be behind a now-defunct company called Swenzy, which staged pranks targeting American cartoon Family Guy (it promised a message from killed-off dog, Brian), and NASA (it teased a major announcement that led to nothing).
Those hoaxes led Brian’s mourners and space enthusiasts straight to the Swenzy homepage, where they were offered to purchase Facebook “Likes” and Twitter followers for a reasonable price. (The likers and friends are humanlike “bots,” which will “Like” a Facebook picture or laugh at a funny status update with a generic “LOL” — they appeal to web users seeking popularity.)
But unlike those hoaxes, the promise of a naked Emma Watson led only to the “ShutDown4chan” website. According to the site, the campaign has amassed eight million visitors, seven million Facebook shares and likes and three million Twitter mentions.
Obscure campaign boost
The numbers are implausible and the motivation behind them sketchy. But until it proves otherwise, the faux-campaign is only helping to accelerate Watson’s eloquent efforts in promoting gender equality.
Watson is fronting the UN’s HeForShe campaign, which was launched in March with the backing of longtime women’s rights advocate Hillary Clinton. The campaign correctly outlines gender equality as a human rights issue rather than a women’s issue — a difference which Watson was keen to stress on Saturday.
“Men don’t have the benefits of equality either,” she said, citing inequality in parenting rights, societal pressure, and mental suffering caused by what she said was a “distorted sense of what constitutes male success”.
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence,” she said.
Since her “game-changing” speech, the HeForShe campaign has well surpassed its aim of 100,000 signees, and attracted support from stars including Simon Pegg, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Forest Whitaker. In the past 24 hours, an additional 12,000 men have signed up to the cause.
Watson’s success as HeForShe emissary is undeniable. But so too, is the success of Rantic Marketing’s baffling campaign, whatever its motives.