Anonymous users of infamous web forum 4chan leaked stolen nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, and scores of other women on September 1st. Three weeks later, anonymous 4chan users threatened to do it again. Their new target would be Emma Watson, the actress best known for portraying teenage schoolgirl Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies.
This time, the anonymous figures appeared more organized. Shortly after the threats appeared online, someone set up a dedicated site — emmawatsonyouarenext.com — and started a countdown to the time and date that they would release the images. The countdown first pointed to this coming Saturday, before jumping forward, to 12AM ET on Wednesday the 24th of September.
emmayouarenext.com turned out to be a hoax
But when the clock struck 12, no naked pictures were released. Instead visitors to emmayouarenext.com were pointed to a marketing company's homepage, its black background bearing a crossed-out version of 4chan's four-leaf clover logo, and the hashtag #shutdown4chan written in large white letters. The site was a hoax, designed to draw as many eyes as possible not to actual pictures of Watson but to an apparent campaign set up to attack 4chan.
"None of these women deserve this," the page states. "Join us as we shutdown 4chan and prevent more pictures from being leaked." Alongside its call to keep private pictures private, the site boasts about its social success. The organizer says emmayouarenext.com reached 48 million visitors, 7 million Facebook shares and likes, and 3 million Twitter mentions. It's a striking set of numbers that puts a solid figure on how many people are desperate to disrobe young women for their own gratification.
The campaign is apparently designed to shut down 4chan
But it's also distasteful. By displaying the results front and center and tweeting about emmayouarenext.com's viral success, the campaign's organizers are perhaps more focused on promoting their own brand and services than issues of privacy and gender equality. While the campaign's aim is laudable — news of the planned "leak" of Watson's pictures was met with frothing glee and sexual threats by 4chan users — its creator is questionable. Some Reddit users were able to sniff out the hoax before its countdown expired, and linked the company behind it to FoxWeekly, a site that plagiarizes from other news sources to solicit views and Facebook likes, and Swenzy, a company that sells followers, likes, and views.
The campaign purports to be paid for by celebrity publicists who hired the marketing firm in question, but it lacks the polish you'd expect from something backed by A-listers. The site hosts a letter directed to President Obama pockmarked with grammar errors and strange demands. The campaign's organizers say that the internet "NEEDS to be censored," and that every Facebook like or Twitter mention counts as a "social signature" that somehow means we "will be step closer to to shutting down www.4chan.org" (sic).
The company behind the campaign is crowing about its viral success
Thanks to 4chan's inherently anonymous comment structure, it's not clear whether the marketing company behind the campaign was responsible for the post indicating it was in possession of Emma Watson's private photos, or if its representatives simply capitalized on the rumors, building the site in a few days. If the campaign's organizers are indeed linked to Swenzy, then they have experience putting together similar hoaxes. A similar countdown page appeared in October last year that teased a massive NASA announcement. The announcement was fake, and led instead to a YouTube music video.
But despite the campaign's murky background and questionable methods, something good may come from the hoax. The threat of another young woman's private photos being leaked has spurred a strong reaction from the media, and helped provide a point of coalescence around which people could discuss the representation of women in society. Watson herself spoke powerfully this week at the United Nations about the harm that gender discrimination causes for all humans. Let's hope she remains in the mainstream news cycle for her words and not her body.