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Back before email, we had this concept of a “chain letter.” Basically, you’d mail a letter to someone that instructed them to photocopy it X number of times, put the copies in envelopes, and mail them to your friends. Sometimes they would give some fake reason (you’ll have bad luck otherwise, or something) but the entire point was that for some reason, a lot of people get an innate thrill out of the very act of having something they created seen by a lot of other people. It doesn’t matter whether anyone knows the identity of the person who created it, or if what they created has any value whatsoever. The thing itself was quickly forgotten – it only ever mattered to the person who wrote it and the little thrill it gave them.
Today, that mentality survives. It’s never been so important to be skeptical of viral news stories. In an age when anything outrageous, infuriating or ridiculous spreads like wildfire over social media, people starved of attention are constantly wracking their brains to come up with some fake news they can release into the wild to see if it procreates or incites drama. Out of two of the biggest viral news stories of the past couple of weeks, both have turned out to be hoaxes, and perhaps unsurprisingly, both involved boobs in some way – in one case, a woman who had three, and in the other, a woman who only had two but also happened to be Hermione Granger, which the internet figured was the practical equivalent of six thousand boobs.
But while the internet believed the three-boobs lady despite the fact that they should have known better, the rumour that the website 4chan was about to release images of Emma Watson naked was believable because, hell, it completely stood to reason. Internet assholes on rancid yet popular communities like 4chan and Reddit have been engaged in a full-on war against the female gender for a while now. I’m not sure whether it properly began with feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian’s analysis of video game culture, or whether maybe it goes as far back as Elliot Rodger, but in any case, once content with allowing women to spout off out of earshot on university campuses and tumblr, angry internet teenagers have decided it’s time to go on the attack. In ridiculous campaigns like “Gamergate” and “the Fappening,” kids with nothing better to do are going after high profile women in an effort to destroy them for only pretend reasons. 4chan already stole and released hundreds of nude images of women for the crime of keeping their tits to themselves, so it was completely believable that they had some fleshy images of Emma Watson that they were threatening to release if she didn’t shut her mouth about feminism.
But then, as time went on, people started to suspect that this was a prank. After all, it was 4chan, who are known to play pranks on celebrities for no reason but shits and giggles, and it was kind of weird that if they had got a hold of Watson’s nude images, they would sit on them instead of dumping them on the internet with all the rest of them. Apart from some kids on Reddit creepily rubbing their hands and salivating over the prospect of getting to see Hermione’s womanly assets, a lot of people started chalking it up to an empty threat.
And they were right. This week it was revealed that the Watson nudes threat was a hoax perpetrated by a company called Rantic Marketing, who claimed responsibility and that they been hired by celebrity publicists to bring attention to 4chan’s criminality and lobby the government to have them shut down.
But that’s not the end of the story. It turns out that Rantic Marketing is also fake. And that’s where things get really weird.
People who looked into this company discovered that it didn’t even exist until recently, and that it’s actually run by some kind of fake news blog called FoxWeekly (no connection to the Fox company) which is in turn run by some group going by the moniker of SocialVevo. That’s about the extent that anyone can figure out what the hell is going on here.
Most viral pranks either have some kind of point to make, or exist solely for the purpose of trying to make something go viral, almost as a social experiment. Ostensibly, the Watson nudes hoax is the former – an effort to incite public disgust with 4chan – but the fact that this is itself a disingenuous hoax just leaves everyone scratching their heads.
If this is intended as an anti-4chan, pro-feminism hoax, then it’s a terribly executed one that surely has Watson thinking “thanks but no fucking thanks.” Like someone calling in a bomb threat to the White House as an endorsement of the president. I don’t know if it’s ever crossed Watson’s mind to snap some private erotica with her phone, and as always that’s her own business. If she hasn’t, then she would have known this is a hoax from the beginning, but if she has, then it’s likely she’s spent the past week rallying her lawyers together, adjusting her schedule, and preparing for intense emotional and professional fallout. That’s not a nice thing to do to someone even if you say you’re on their side.
But given that this explanation is also a smokescreen, people have begun to wonder whether this is a real “false flag” hoax that’s connected to 4chan after all, some kind of effort to create false “social justice warrior” enemies to incite even more rage against women in the media.
Personally, I suspect that’s thinking too deeply into it – this isn’t the first hoax SocialVevo has been behind, but nobody can figure out what any of their other hoaxes have been about either. Maybe it is as simple as just trying to get in the news. Maybe it’s just a private joke that only they understand. Being that they run a news site that (probably deliberately) sounds like it’s connected to Fox but only runs stories copied and pasted from other sites, they probably just get off on Facebook shares. That’s probably all this comes down to – chain letters, refined for an age when threatening people with bad luck for not passing it on just doesn’t cut it anymore. Now you have to threaten them with their own boobs.