The Twitter Purge and the Fappening: How Women are Blamed for the Invasion of their own Privacy

The concept of ‘revenge porn,’ defined by the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review as “the public online posting of nude or sexually explicit pictures of a person, often with attached identifying information or derogatory comments” has come to public consciousness in the wake of two major events in 2014: the “Twitter Purge” in July and November and the “Fappening,” a colloquial term for the leak of hundreds of nude pictures of celebrities in September (Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review). However, the practice has been around for a while, with the most prominent ‘revenge porn’ website, Hunter Moore’s “Is Anyone Up,” being created in 2010. “Is Anyone Up,” until its closing in 2012, was a forum-style website where posters were encouraged to shame their ex-lovers publicly by posting their nude pictures and contact information (Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review). Though the site was not a household name, the practice of ‘sexting,’ or the texting of provocative and sexually explicit pictures to others, has apparently been a mainstay for years, and the Fappening and Twitter Purge made people understand that it was more widespread than most people expected, for better and for worse, and more troubling is the fact that sexting has trickled down into practice in the preteen and teenage arena, with a recent study finding that 18% of teenagers have sent a nude picture to a partner (Parkinson).

Sexting may not have become a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that partners inevitably break up. In moments of anger, many scorned partners turn to the Internet to shame their partners, and these partners whose pictures are posted online are overwhelmingly—90%-female (End Revenge Porn). With these statistics, it is easy to see that revenge porn is a gendered crime, and is more a manifestation of society’s ongoing harassment of women (ex. Street cat calling and victim blame in college rape cases) than a completely new adopted belief that is suddenly adopted when one goes online (Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review, Nutting). And revenge porn is not just an online issue—the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative has found that 49% of women who have been exposed in revenge porn have been harassed and stalked both online and offline by those who had seen their pictures (End Revenge Porn).

Revenge Porn By the Numbers - An Infographic from End Revenge Porn

Embedded from End Revenge Porn

The “Twitter Purge,” a burst of revenge porn pictures of women that were posted on a dedicated accounts created by a teenager in California to purge, or expose, ‘thots,’ a degrading slang term towards women, began in mid-July (Parkinson). It is interesting to note that the “Twitter Purge” began only a week after a teenage girl named Jada Sparks became a trending topic on Twitter as boys from a party she was at raped her then mocked her online by posting pictures of her in an unconscious and partially clothed state (Parkinson). The timing of the purge coincided with the release of The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to the first The Purge movie, and the reincarnation of the Twitter Purge occurred in November when the media hyped the DVD release (Wikipedia). What is interesting about the Twitter Purge is that even when the original Purge accounts that were created by the Californian teen were deleted by Twitter, individual tweeters continued to use the hashtag #twitterpurge in order to shame their ex-girlfriends and women that had trusted them enough to send them nude or semi-nude photos.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.35.37 PMThe spike of tweets containing the hashtag #TwitterPurge is shown to have increased dramatically on the days surrounding the release of The Purge: Anarchy DVD.  

Two months after the first Twitter Purge, the phenomenon was followed by an even more startling and more sensational story when the nude, personal photos of hundreds of female celebrities were posted online onto a forum site called 4chan, with the photos being stolen through a breach in security in the Apple iCloud which instantly stores photos taken on iPhones (Worland). Though the public had almost become used to the leaking of private photos because of the Twitter Purge, the victim blame game was even stronger than before as people tweeted ‘advice’ to celebrities that was patronizing and misogynistic as they blamed those in the pictures, not the people who had hacked into the iCloud to steal them and post them publicly. The overwhelming voice of people giving advice included things like “don’t take nude selfies,” but this was problematic as it was only targeted towards women, not the men who had hacked the system (Bilton, Dewey). Female reporters and feminists rallied towards the cause, stating that those who told women to ‘not take nude pictures’ were doing the equivalent of telling women to not dress a certain way when going outside, going to a party, or even telling women that rape is their fault (Dewey).

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.35.44 PM

A stereotypical tweet telling women what to do in order to avoid getting their pictures posted online without their consent, which doesn’t even touch the bigger problem of people posting their pictures.

Many men and women tweeted about the Twitter Purge and the “Fappening” saying that women should not sext at all in order to protect themselves from the possibility of a leak by someone they know (as in revenge porn) or someone they don’t even know (as in the celebrity nude leak), but this is difficult advice whe the practice has become embedded into the social norm of teenagers. Ironically, a study by Lippman and Campbell has found that girls are “no more likely than boys to sext” but “more likely to experience pressure to do so, particularly from boys” (Lippman and Campbell). However, girls are the ones who are exposed after a rough break-up, and are the ones who are branded with terms like “prude” if they are not willing to send sexts to love interests and “sluts” if they send them too willingly (Lippman and Campbell). In addition, the way that girls are treated when their photos are put online against their will is problematic as police officers say things like “they victimized themselves” (Rossin).

The issue of revenge porn, sexting, the Fappening, and the Twitter Purge all coalesce into one big question: how far is too far when the First Amendment is concerned (Kim)? How far are we willing to push the boundary of free speech when it is hurtful and detrimental to women online? Barlow’s 1996 “A Cyberspace Independence Declaration” seems eerie as it echoes the attitude of 4chan users who exposed celebrities’ personal pictures without caring about the government’s hand, as it states “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours” (Barlow). In addition, Barlow states that governments do not “possess any methods of enforcement [Internet users] have true reason to fear,” which is quite true in that due to the international nature of the Internet, what is outlawed in one state may be allowed in another, as not all states have anti-revenge porn laws in effect yet (Barlow, Kim).

There is no clear solution to this problem, as it again is just a technological manifestation of the way that women are treated in our society September (Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review). The fact that this problem is not just one online but that society has as a whole is highlighted by the case in which several police officers in California were found to be stealing and forwarding nude pictures from phones of people arrested or stopped for things like speeding to their own phones in order to collect nude photos of women as a game within the police force (Steigerwald). When even the police is contributing to the problem, it seems that it is a lost cause for women everywhere to be given dignity in expressing their sexuality with peace of mind.

Works Cited

Barlow, John. A Cyberspace Independence Declaration. 9 Feb. 1996. E-Mail.

Bilton, Nick (NickBilton). “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks:1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take use selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies” 1 September 2014, 5:31 p.m. Tweet.

Dewey, Caitlin. “This Is Why ‘not Taking Nude Selfies’ Is Not the Solution to the Internet’s Nude-Photo Hacking Scandal.” Washington Post : September 2, 2014. Print.

Kim, Anne. “Addressing Celebrity Nude Photo Leaks and Revenge Porn: The First Amendment Question.” Roll Call. N.p., 7 Nov. 2014. Web.

“Law and Revenge Porn.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. N.p., n.d. Web.

Lippman, Julia, and Scott Campbell. “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t…If You’re a Girl: Relational and Normative Contexts of Adolescent Sexting in the United States.” Children and Media (2013): 371–386. Print.

Nutting, Alice. “Revenge Porn Is Vile Symptom of Modern Misogyny — It’s about Time We Had a Protection Law.” The Independent 16 Nov. 2014. Web.

Parkinson, Hannah. “Twitter Trend Based on The Purge Films Exposes Horror of Revenge Porn.” The Guardian 21 July 2014. Web.

“Revenge Porn By the Numbers.” End Revenge Porn. N.p., 3 Jan. 2014. Web.

Rosin, Hannah. “Why Kids Sext.” The Atlantic 14 Oct. 2014. Web.

Steigerwald, Lucy. “California Officers Steal Suspects’ Nude Photos as a ‘Game.’” N.p., 27 Oct. 2014. Web.

“The Purge: Anarchy.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Tweets per Day: Twitterpurge October 17- November 16.” Topsy. N.p., n.d. Web.

Worland, Justin. “How That Massive Celebrity Hack Might Have Happened.” Time Magazine 1 Sept. 2014. Web.

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