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The New Face of Revenge Porn?

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Jennifer Lawrence wants—and deserves—justice after last month’s nude photo leak. “It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting,” she told Vanity Fair, in her first interview since the incident. “The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible.“

It was hackers who stole her photos (and, at least in Lawrence’s instance, Apple’s cloud network whose security was breached) so which ‘web sites’ is she referring to, exactly? A potential lawsuit—announced last week by celebrity lawyer Marty Singer, on behalf of a cohort of hacked actresses—sheds some light on whom Hollywood thinks is to blame. It’s not Apple. It’s Google.

Singer told the New York Post that Google "knows that the images are hacked stolen property… posted by pervert predators who are violating the victims’ privacy rights and basic human decency.” Unlike Twitter, which took the images down quickly, Singer says Google moved too slowly, “making millions and profiting from the victimization of women.” Now he wants $100 million for about a dozen actress clients (Lawrence has not confirmed she’s one of them) if the remaining pics don’t come down from Blogger and other Google properties.

Lawrence may be America’s sweetheart (arguably now more than ever in the wake of this scandal), but does this case stand a chance? Even if it can be proven Google didn’t act quickly enough, it’s hard to persecute a search engine for doing its job—finding information that people are searching for. But such a legal strategy is fitting with Hollywood’s unique brand of tone-deafness whenever it engages in digital affairs. It’s another reminder that the entertainment industry still doesn’t really get how the internet works, hoping to blame data theft—whether its pirated video files or hacked nudes—on the platforms where that data traffics, as opposed to the individuals doing the stealing.

Targeting Lawrence’s abusers has, in fact, been Google’s approach since the leak: “We’ve removed tens of thousands of pictures—within hours of the requests being made—and we have closed hundreds of accounts,” a Google rep said over email. “The Internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them.” Indeed, Google’s attitude reflects the reality that the public doesn’t really want search engines policing access to information—especially when under threat from Hollywood lawyers, as the outcry over 2012’s SOPA bill showed.

But Hollywood’s strategy conflates Google, a single engine, with the internet in its entirety. Filtering search results from one engine won’t stop them from being shared (unfortunately for Lawrence and everyone else involved). While the victimized actresses deserve financial compensation, if Lawrence really wants justice, Google seems like the wrong place to look. Instead, she should channel her resources and power into finding more effective ways to combat revenge porn and online sexual harassment, which affect thousands of less powerful woman every year.

Lawrence can count her lucky stars that ‘the fappening’ went the way it did, compared to the typical victim of online sexual assault. Most women who come to the website Without My Consent, which supports victims of online harassment, don’t have the money or resources to fight their attackers in court, to get the images taken down, or to pay for reputation repair. They lose their jobs, sometimes even custody of their kids. They file complaints with Facebook, only to wait for months for the images to come down. They don’t get special treatment by Google. They’re not contacted by Vanity Fair and given “a chance to get the last word.” Meanwhile, mental health can collapse; more than one young woman has committed suicide after comparable assaults this past year.

Unless you’ve had the uniquely gut-ravaging, anxiety-provoking experience of watching intimate photos of you passed around and commented on online without your consent, there’s no way to understand what this feels like. But Lawrence can relate to these women on an emotional level. I know a lot of revenge porn victims saw this happen to celebrities and thought, “Finally, it’s happened to someone who can do something about it. Maybe something will change.”

I think we come out and say it—Jennifer Lawrence is now the face of revenge porn, whether she likes it or not.

But the real $100-million question is: Will she own that responsibility?


Violet Blue is a San Francisco journalist covering tech, privacy, and hacking and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. Follow her on Twitter

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