Last weekend, actress, retired witch, and UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson appeared before the United Nations in New York to deliver a speech on the modern state of feminism—and specifically the need to bring men into the fight for gender equality. “I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves,” Watson said, directing them to the HeForShe campaign that asks men to commit to taking action against discrimination and all forms of violence against women.
Watson’s call to action was made all the more poignant by the toxic groundswell of Men’s Rights Activist sentiment that’s flooded the Internet of late—and in particular, in the wake of the many revealing personal photos of female celebrities that were stolen and posted to the Internet. So naturally, it was immediately followed by threats to post nude pictures of Emma Watson herself.
The day after Watson’s speech went viral, a post on 4chan—the forum where many of those stolen photographs first turned up—advertised a website called Emma You Are Next, which featured a photo of Watson wiping away a tear next to a countdown clock. As Death And Taxes noted, many on 4chan’s /b/ board seemed excited by the prospect of shaming Emma Watson for daring to preach to them about basic human rights, making comments that demonstrated why appealing to their humanity would be a lost cause anyway.
Yet after those comments were picked up by the mainstream media, 4chan regulars were quick to disassociate themselves from Emma You Are Next—swearing that they think Emma Watson is just the sort of feminist they can masturbate to, and they’d never do anything to hurt her. “4chan holds Emma in high esteem, and while most of us would fap like crazy to real nudes, it’s not us hacking the cloud,” Jezebel quotes one post as saying. “if by some rare fluke Emma Watson is reading this - many on 4chan respect what you’re doing as a moderate, balanced feminist and we don’t hate you like we hate the [Social Justice Warriors].” They then suggested that the website and threats were instead a “false flag” operation by another agency, “probably NSA or something.”
Or something. In fact, when the countdown clock finally hit midnight, Emma You Are Next was revealed as a ruse—though one perpetrated not by any government agency, but rather what appeared to be a marketing company called Rantic. Visitors were redirected to the Rantic website, which claimed to have threatened to release the private photos of female celebrities to make a statement against threatening to release the private photos of female celebrities. This was made even clearer by a clumsily written letter that declared Rantic had been hired by “celebrity publicists” to make this address to Barack Obama, in which it demanded that the President of the Internet shut down 4chan.
And yet, as Business Insider reported, this, too, was just a hoax inside another exhausting hoax: “Rantic” doesn’t actually exist; rather, it’s the creation of a “gang of prolific Internet spammers” collectively known as Social VEVO. Their past viral shenanigans have included a similar countdown clock released around the death of Brian on Family Guy and a rap song about pickles; meanwhile the “Rantic” moniker was previously employed to stoke similar outrage over the similarly fake report that Grand Theft Auto V would not be released on PC. By Tuesday, Reddit users had connected the dots between Rantic and Fox Weekly—the fake news site SocialVEVO uses to disseminate its pranks—which is where the first reports of Emma You Are Next originated.
So in summation: A group of viral “pranksters” used Emma Watson’s speech to manufacture a fake threat of retaliation, one that was meant to stoke outrage aimed at the sort of people who regularly victimize women on the Internet—all by actually victimizing a woman on the Internet. (But you know, in a “prankster” way.) This fake threat was then exposed by its supposed targets, who decried the mainstream media’s “willingness to ‘Listen and Believe’ the feminist victimization narrative,” thus exposing the reasons why that “narrative” exists in the first place. And in the end, the pretend debasement of Emma Watson—to raise awareness about debasement, or something—ended up being actually, really debasing, as Watson’s speech was quickly swallowed up in this nesting doll of Internet ugliness.
And even now, we are perpetuating it by reporting on it! And you are perpetuating it by clicking on a story with “Emma Watson nude photos” in the headline! In short, everyone on the Internet needs a time out.