‘A call for privacy’ revisited
Miko Malabute | Monday, October 12, 2015
Around this time last year, I wrote an article in light of a mass invasion of privacy and leak of private photos in an event that has come to be known as “The Fappening.” For those who don’t recall, a hacker who went by the alias “Spooky Ghost” hacked an alarmingly large number of female celebrities’ nude photos that were stored on their personal online drives (such as iCloud) and released them on the Internet. There was an immediate backlash and subsequent call to take these down (and rightfully so), for the sake of legality, privacy and decency. It seemed as if, for the most part, more rational and mature heads prevailed, as Internet users were disgusted by the blatant disregard for these celebrities’ privacies.
A year later, photos of a nude Justin Bieber vacationing in Bora Bora have surfaced on the Internet. To say that the reception to them directly contradicted the outrage to “The Fappening” would be an understatement.
Now on the surface, the nature of these two breaches of privacy are different. Where “The Fappening” was due to a hacker going into people’s private online drives and releasing them, it seems that Bieber’s revealing pictures were due to paparazzi being in the right (or wrong) place, at the right (wrong) time. And, obviously, the former incident was largely perceived as a disregard for women’s privacy and an affront to feminism; the latter was just a case of seeing the latest scandalous picture of one of the most popular male celebrities on the planet.
A little deeper look into the situations show that they are, in essence, both a part of a larger problem and being treated with a disgusting double standard. Where “The Fappening” caused people to rush to the affected female celebrities’ defense, many were quick to poke fun at one of Bieber’s most vulnerable moments. As a matter of fact, Joel McHale of “The Soup” did an entire segment on Bieber’s photos, making joke after joke about it, even casually referring to Bieber’s genitals as “baloney pony.” Then there were a multitude of talk shows that just casually talked about Bieber’s exposed body, speaking about the incident with such a carefree air, as if they were talking about the scores from last night’s games. It is not hard to imagine that if this was a female celebrity’s privacy being completely disregarded, the talk and reception to the photos wouldn’t be treated like such a laughing matter.
I’m not naive, however. I understand that these two incidents cannot be held to the same standard because there is, after all, absolutely a double standard at play here. And it does not help that Bieber seems to constantly put himself in these vulnerable positions. After all, a quick scroll through Bieber’s Instagram shows him regularly semi-nude, and nowadays the breadth of his appeal comes from his new, mature style of music as well as his new, edgy image. Legal experts Peter T. Haven and Mike Cavalluzzi also seem to question whether or not the release of these photos is actually illegal or not.
“Justin Bieber is what you generally refer to as a public figure,” Haven told Billboard. “In my opinion, given the fact that he’s a public figure, given the fact that he was in plain view or view that was accessible to the public, this just goes with the territory.”
“The right to publish is going to hinge on whether [the photos] are newsworthy, and it’s very, very interesting because obviously anything about Justin Bieber is newsworthy,” Cavalluzzi further explained. “He’s a public figure, he’s made his sexuality a part of his fame … and therefore the fact these go a step further are fair game.”
All in all, though the legality may be a bit murky, the morality shouldn’t be. Yes, there is a double standard that we as a society turn a blind eye to, and we are all (for the most part, anyway) guilty of treating “The Fappening” differently than Bieber’s photos — and for very understandable reasons, I admit. But — especially in today’s age of hypersensitivity and political correctness — shouldn’t there be a bit more sensitivity when dealing with a person’s right to privacy?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.