In an economy based on ads, clicks, and buzz, a click isn’t just curiosity—it’s approval. It creates an incentive for further crimes.
It’s very quick and easy to search for headline-making leaked nude photos, but even quicker and easier to think through the ethics of doing so first. And if you give it that three seconds of thought, guys, you’ll see it’s a clear-cut case against seeking out the photos.
First, let me note that this isn’t for the kind of people who leak the photos—or for those who think that the leakers are heroic for doing so. No, the person I’m talking to here is the guy who thinks that since the photos are already out there, there’s no harm at this point in looking.
By way of analogy: Imagine a friend comes to your birthday party with a box, and inside the box is a pair of underwear.
“What is this?” you ask.
“It’s a famous actress’ underwear,” your friend says. “I broke into her house and stole them for you.”
If your friend did this, you wouldn’t accept the gift. You’d rightly consider it creepy and awful, not to mention a crime.
It’s no different when the theft is digital.
In either case, the actress hasn’t done anything wrong: There’s no more moral culpability in having a naked picture than there is in owning underwear. And having someone break into electronic records is just as worthy of blame as having someone break into your house. The fault here lies with the person who broke in and rifled through drawers, literal or virtual. But it also lies with the person who thinks there’s no harm in accepting the “gift.”
Some men rationalize looking for leaked photos by comparing it to other things, like looking at pornography. There’s a whole great big Internet out there full of pornography, running the gamut of ethical merit from perfectly fine to completely loathsome, but by and large it has one huge difference from leaked photos: It’s meant to be viewed by the public at large.
The same is true of a magazine shoot or a red carpet photo of an actress: that you could see some images of a woman in public doesn’t mean you’re entitled to see any and all images.
It’s also wrong because seeking out and viewing stolen photos encourages and validates the leakers and the websites that host such photos. It’s the same reason it’s illegal to buy a stolen car. In an economy based on ads, clicks, and buzz, a click isn’t just curiosity—it’s approval. It creates an incentive for further crimes.
Finally, as Jessica Roy rightly notes, hacking and distributing private photos is part of a bigger problem: the abuse and harassment of women online, emerging from a “belief that they have a protected right to view, touch, and comment upon women’s bodies, consensually or not.” Any woman who has a presence on the Internet understands this culture of harassment, and any man who bothers to listen and think about it should understand it too.
For the hackers and those who encourage them, the fact that leaked photos are abusive and illicit is part of the thrill. It gives very sad men a feeling of power over famous women, a power they feel entitled to and are angry they don’t have. That’s beneath contempt, and men shouldn’t participate in it.
Deciding not to look at a stolen nude photo shouldn’t be a tough choice. It’s simple: just don’t.
Seth D. Michaels is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. He’s on Twitter at @sethdmichaels.