I bet at least 70% of the time when people reblog something and just add the phrase “I’m crying,” they aren’t even really crying.
If you’ve been on the internet in the last three days, the context of this post is obvious: Since Sunday night, the Newsblog Collective has been solely preoccupied with some naked people.
The naked people in question aren’t just any naked people, though. These are people whose names you might have heard, people whose posters probably adorn your tween niece’s bedroom wall. So there’s public interest, which the media has cultivated into one of the biggest stories in the world.
You can go to the BuzzFeeds and Gawkers and HuffPos of the Internet and read a dozen articles about the specifics of what happened, but it boils down to the following three points:
The first round of articles posted Sunday night and Monday morning covered points 1 and 2 pretty thoroughly, over and over and over. And why not? Sex sells, especially when it involves the sexiest young Nickelodeon stars of yesterday and today. The Internet was abuzz and the clicks were flowing: People had nothing to do but surf the ‘net over the Labor Day weekend, and any article related to the leak was guaranteed to generate off-the-charts interest. Media aggregators and blogs scrambled for new information to post, stories just a step or two removed from “UPDATE: Nothing new to report; nudes still widely available.” Gawker even has a handy list of all the celebrities along with their most prominent works, in case readers need a reference guide while they peruse the dark Web.
And every headline came with the implied promise of hot celebrity nudity, or at least a veiled link labeled with a “NSFW” warning.
That’s why the biggest problem with this story, from a media perspective, is point 3 above: The invasion of privacy these women faced was gross and disturbing, and yet the story had to persist on A-1 above the fold to maximize clicks and revenue. Once people started losing interest in the initial story, content producers had to find a new angle, and there’s none more popular than moral superiority.
The next phase of stories correctly presented the following arguments: Unauthorized access (via hacking or any other means) to someone’s private photographs is categorically wrong; widespread distribution of those photographs is worse; and neither the lack of care taken by the victims nor their position in the public eye warrants a blast of illegally obtained and embarrassing photos throughout the Internet.
Writers stumbled over themselves in the mad rush to decry the privacy breach first and most fervently.
We are still in this phase of coverage, and it will continue until people stop clicking the articles. But in the meantime, the popular media opinion seems to insult their readership with the suggestion that only perverts and deviants would ever have been interested in this story. These photos are private is the popular refrain. They are none of your business. This should be a non-story. (One wonders how many editorial writers pontificating so self-righteously themselves took a quick gander at the nude photos. You know, for journalism reasons.)
All this, coming from the very same websites that turned this leak just a day or two before into the mammoth story it became. The Huffington Post, who spent the last few days reporting extensively about naked celebrities, just today posted an article titled “5 Reasons Not to Look for Those Nude Celebrity Photos.” Salon posted the awkwardly titled “Reddit’s Pathetic Nude Celebrity Selfie Rage,” which discusses and insults the Reddit community’s fascination with this story while tagging the article under both “Fappening” and “The Fappening,” adopting the gross nickname Reddit adopted for the leak. BuzzFeed is capitalizing alongside its reporting of the story with clickbait headlines like “21 Topless Celebrities,” a collection of half-cropped red carpet photos, rated somewhere between “LOL” and “WIN,” based on an idea lifted from a Reddit thread. Gawker filed their stories under SEO-friendly tags “nudes,” “celebrities" and "leaks,” posting a dozen articles across its sister sites to lure in the readers. (It’s worth noting that Gawker’s sports affiliate, Deadspin, made its name partially by leaking unfortunate-though-private crotch-shots of now-retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre. That cheeky series of stories, still among their most-clicked, was filed under “Athlete Dong.”)
At all these outlets - and so many more! - you can find articles, updates, lists and links appealing to the pervy nature of the non-discerning Internet reader. And almost invariably, these articles are followed by scathing opinion pieces about privacy and depravity.
There’s no easy way to cover a story like this: The public intrigue can’t be denied, and the returns are evident in the sheer number of page views and shares. If the endgame is to get revenue, then sure, aggregate the hell out of this story. But news blogs should not get rich off all those page views one day and then take a moral stand against the exploitation of women the next. They at least need to be aware of their role in perpetuating the story before creating their own backlash against it.
(I understand the irony of this post.)