Consider this: You’ve just seen a movie. You didn’t expect to enjoy it and now that you’ve left the theater, dusted the popcorn kernels off your shirt, and complained about the steep price of entertainment these days, you find yourself outraged. The writing was terrible, the acting was poor, and, because the film was a reboot, you feel that an important part of your childhood has been forcibly torn out of your torso, leaving a gaping wound where memories of joy and happiness once resided.
Now imagine you know where one of the stars — the one you hate the most because of reasons apparent only to you (but definitely not because she’s a black woman) — lives. Would you drive to her house to yell at her? Would you break in, rifle through the drawers of her nightstand? Would you take her most personal possessions — including her driver’s license and intimate photos never meant for you — and then share your conquest with the world, happily comparing this woman to a gorilla just because you find her annoying? Or would the fear of legal action and your own sense of morality stop you?
If you wouldn’t do the above to a person in real life — because you’re not a sociopath — why is it so easy to do (or cosign) online? And why is such an assault on someone’s privacy, someone’s body, less of a crime when it comes from behind a screen?
But forget the hypotheticals. If you’ve been following the news, you already know that Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was cruelly and viciously attacked on Wednesday — the regular content of her personal website replaced with pictures of the comedian’s passport and driver’s license, selfies of Jones with celebrities, and nude photos stolen from her iCloud account. A video of Harambe, the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, was plastered at the top of the page. And what’s worse, while Jones’ supporters rallied around her, others made light of the violation.
On Breitbart, an “alt-right” news site where the abuse of Jones began after blogger Milo Yiannopoulos sent hordes of his followers after her in July, people joked about vomiting at the thought of seeing Jones’ nudes. One commenter suggested that Jones had released the photos herself for attention. ”Who would be interested in viewing this hideous simian?” he added.
On Twitter, users made jokes about the actress’ nude form. They posted pictures of Harambe (with Jones’ head on his body, this time). Elsewhere, internet commenters admonished Jones for taking the nude photos in the first place — willfully ignoring the fact that this form of victim blaming grows from the same logic tree where we ask rape victims what they did to provoke their attackers. And while many will go to their deaths arguing that because Jones was never touched physically, what happened to her wasn’t truly grievous, it’s pretty clear that the ‘hack’ was an assault, a violation, and any other word you can think of that describes a person or group of people causing deep personal trauma to another human being.
Make no mistake: What happened to Jones wasn’t “trolling.” It was a hate crime. Most importantly, what happened to Jones is a terrifying reminder that in the age of the internet, there’s precious little protection for the people most vulnerable to this type of attack, and plenty of people who’ll happily applaud it while spouting clichés about why people should never expect a right to privacy.
But why Leslie Jones? In a post about the hacking, Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies pointed out that Jones is the target of vitriol for several major reasons: She’s black, she’s a woman, she’s successful, and she refuses to lay down when people come at her. Jones is also older (nearly 50) and doesn’t fit in the historic movie star mold. She is too talented to be relegated to bit parts and refuses to conform to stereotypes, and because of that, the men who hate her (overwhelmingly men, overwhelmingly white) are driven into a state of frenzy by her mere existence.
Jones’ continued success is not just an affront because it ruins childhood memories of a classic film that got “meh” reviews, but because the people who hate her are frightened by the fact that their childhoods — filled mostly by white men with an occasional cameo by a minority actor — are no longer a real representation of the world. Jones has too much, is too much and therefore needs to be destroyed.
“It’s about a loss of identity,” Tiffany McLain, a San Francisco-based psychotherapist with extensive clinical experience in the field of cultural competence told us. “For a long time white folks have been the norm, and they’ve maintained the status quo. When you start bringing in people from other ethnic backgrounds into the public consciousness and you put them in situations where it’s not about them being the other, that is inherently, on an unconscious level, a threat to identity.”