Street Corner Soapbox: Emma Watson and 4chan

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 7:00 AM

“Emma Watson naked photos to be leaked!” screamed the headlines.

No doubt you saw those headlines. They were hard to miss, slathered as they were across newspapers, cable news programs, and Internet news reports. The young English actress – her Hermione Granger the best thing about the Harry Potter movies – was going to have her naked pictures posted on in retribution for her comments on feminism at the UN!

The news was gold, following as it did on the release of other naked pictures of young starlets. It was an outrage! That had their personal stash of sex selfies released to the Web! For everyone to see! And here’s exactly where you can go to see them! How shocking! And now, Watson? Intelligent? Self-contained? She’s been pushing against Hollywood’s sexualization of her and other actresses for years, advocating for strong women characters! Now there are naked pics of her? Hot dog – er, shame!

Only a funny thing happened. The media got punk’d. Turns out there were no photos to be leaked. It was a hoax. Actually, it was a double hoax: the group that claimed responsibility claimed it was a PR firm looking to discredit 4chan...but then it was revealed there was no PR firm. It was a joke pulled by Internet pranksters posing as a PR firm posing as a 4chan poster with nude photos. Got it? No? Well, relax. It doesn’t matter.

You almost feel sorry for 4chan as the mistaken target of this kerfuffle. Well, not really. As a friend put it, 4chan is the “asshole of the Internet.” He’s not wrong. It’s a message board where anything and everything is posted. It’s the message board where the original naked celeb photos were posted, for example. Pranks. Gossip. Porn. Slander. That’s the kind of material you find on 4chan.

Not that the mainstream media is equipped to handle the darker corners of the Internet. Hell, most analysts had no idea what a 4chan was. CNN’s “technology analyst,” Brett Larson – expert on all things technology! – thought 4chan was a person. “He may have been a system administrator who knew his way around and how to hack things,” mulled Larson. No wonder they got played.

The media also got played because naked pics sell clicks. Mainstream media outlets are as salacious as the anonymous posters of the celeb photos and those that consume them. The media got played because it was obvious (to the pranksters, anyway) that they’d go in a big way for a story about naked Emma Watson pics. Think about it. How many of the Watson nude photo stories actually include remarks she made at the UN?

“I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” Watson said in that speech. “This has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Which is a bigger, more important idea than shots of a topless Jennifer Lawrence.

So is the rapid spread of Ebola in Africa, where health care systems are shutting down, and the economic viability of an already fragile region is at peril. But even Ebola got short-shrifted by nude Kirsten Dunst. And it’s almost a lock that you heard little, if anything, about the recent protest in New York City demanding that leaders take action to battle climate change. More than 400,000 took to the streets to protest. That’s four Erie, Pennsylvanias. (“A climate-change march that organizers claim was the largest on record,” wrote The New Yorker’s satirist, Andy Borowitz, “is nevertheless unlikely to change the minds of idiots, a survey of America’s idiots reveals.”) But judging by the headlines and news blurbs about Ebola and the climate change protests jammed between outrage! over! nude! photos! these events may have actually never happened.

The coverage of the climate change march actually dwarfed the news that the This American Life radio show was running a segment on secret recordings made between Federal Reserve regulators and Goldman Sachs’ employees, recordings journalist Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Flash Boys) called the “Ray Rice video for the financial sector.” In it, hapless Fed regulators constantly defer to the financial whiz kids, unwilling and unable to question or contain Wall Street shenanigans. “You sort of knew that regulators were more or less controlled by the banks,” wrote Lewis. “Now you know.”

But naked Kate Upton!

You could call it a conspiracy. Putting celebrity news above real, meaningful news in order to distract us all from the things that matter, the things that, if we knew enough about, we might actually go out and change. Or you could blame the public, the reader. Us. After all, we’re more likely to click through to the stories about naked Hope Solo than we are to the news that October hog futures are up. Certainly it has something to do with money – hell, for evidence of that you don’t have to look much farther than ESPN’s three-week suspension of its popular columnist and NBA on-air personality, Bill Simmons, for calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” on his podcast over the Ray Rice incident. ESPN, of course, has a $16.5 billion contract with the NFL to air Monday Night Football.

Hand it to 4chan. As low-down and puerile the content at the site, the nude-Emma-Watson-photos prank shows that the 4chan community understands the site is low-down and puerile and not worth much attention. 4chan is a place where you can go take your potty mouth out for a stroll. It’s a place where you can act uncivil, view the indecent, and give your Id a smoke break from its nagging Superego. It’s not a place to grab your lead news feature from.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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