Wednesday 17 July 2019

Naked truth is that Sia is still a victim

An act of empowerment maybe, but nude pictures of the Australian singer are online nevertheless, writes Sophie Donaldson

VICTIM: Australian musician Sia
VICTIM: Australian musician Sia
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Have you ever had that dream where you arrive at school and suddenly realise you are naked? It's a terrifying scenario. Now imagine if that wasn't a dream and, instead of your classmates, you are exposed to basically anybody who has an internet connection - some three billion people, according to recent estimates.

That is the reality for any-body who has had an electronic account hacked and intimate photos distributed online.

Nobody is immune to an online privacy breach; not those people who think that p@$$w0rD is foolproof, and not even the rich and famous. Indeed, the richer and more famous you are, the more valuable your privacy becomes. In 2014, a mass hack of more than 300 online accounts resulted in the proliferation of thousands of private images of celebrities across the internet. Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and model Kate Upton were just some of the high-profile people targeted - I say 'people' but the majority of victims were, unsurprisingly, women.

A recent report from research institute Data & Society revealed that 4pc of internet users in the United States have been threatened with the publication of their private photos. That figure rises to 10pc for women under 30.

A Chicago man, Edward J Majerczyk, was eventually convicted of hacking 30 of the accounts. He received a nine-month prison term and was ordered to pay for the counselling services for one unnamed victim. In a widely reported interview, Jennifer Lawrence called the hack a sex crime.

Australian musician Sia has her own approach. When the singer became aware last week that nude photos of her were being offered for sale online, she took a screengrab of one of them and posted it on her Twitter account for all of her 3.4m followers.

"Somebody is apparently trying to sell naked photos of me to my fans. Save your money, here it is for free. Everyday is Christmas!" she said, to the utter delight of her followers. The shot shows a woman who we presume to be Sia naked from behind - the image is blurred but the text beneath it promises a crystal-clear photo along with 14 others upon purchase.

The response? Everybody is 'shook' or 'dying'. She's been labelled iconic, a queen, amazing and a bad b***h. For those of you not fluent in the hyperbolic rhetoric of the internet, this is a good thing. The general consensus is that Sia has taken the power back into her own hands by rendering the value of her nudes worthless.

The photograph, by the way, was not a sexy selfie. It looks to have been taken from some distance as Sia stands on a balcony. This should be irrelevant but, unfortunately, it isn't. It would be fair to presume that not only were these photographs published without her consent, they were also taken without her consent.

Had Sia's leaked photograph been one she had taken of herself, naked, I wonder what the response to her actions would have been.

After the 2014 hack, comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: "Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer."

After being accused of victim blaming, Gervais removed the tweet, saying it was a joke.

If that nude photo was her own, chances are Sia would have been savaged by some sad pocket of the internet, and perhaps even by her fellow celebrities, for being foolish enough to take a nude photo in the first place. Her fans seem convinced hers was an act of empowerment but beyond the devil-may-care attitude, it was really just a particularly perverse Catch-22 in which the victim has two choices; to harm themselves, or let somebody else get there first.

Sia may have lost the seller a lucrative deal but she was still forced to share a naked photo of herself that she would otherwise never have wanted in the public domain. It is reminiscent of a new technique Facebook is currently trialling in Australia to combat revenge porn.

The social media giant is encouraging users to send them photos they are concerned might be uploaded without their consent. Facebook will then give the photo a unique digital fingerprint that will identify and stop any attempts to upload the image. After this process, known as a 'hash', is complete, Facebook will then delete the original file.

Facebook's attempt at curbing the publication of private images has been welcomed, while Sia has been hailed a hero for her courageous actions. But in the ongoing battle against virtual abuse, revenge porn and non-consent, both outcomes are still a lose-lose for the victim.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice