Whitney Cummings Posts (Partially) Nude Photo Of Herself In Response To Blackmail Threat; Is That Revenge Porn?

from the content-moderation-is-difficult dept

Revenge porn — or, more accurately, “non-consensual” posting of naked photos — is a real problem. Such postings are, rightly, seen as an invasion into people’s private lives, and are (quite frequently) supported by really awful online services, run by scammers and jackasses who keep ending up in prison or in other trouble with the law. Most of time this is because existing laws can, and do, handle these situations. Most mainstream internet platforms now have very clear rules against non-consensual nudity and act quite quickly to take it down.

However, there are continued efforts at passing laws to deal with this issue — even if the attempts to do so mostly appear to be unconstitutional. We’ve also pointed out that these laws potentially criminalize behavior most people don’t think of as “revenge porn,” which could represent a real issue.

And that brings us to the case of Whitney Cummings, a comedian/actress/producer, who is getting some attention this week after responding to a blackmail threat from someone, asking for money to not release a photo that apparently shows her exposed nipple (which she had accidentally, and very briefly, included in an Instagram story). Someone sent her a version of the photo and asked how much not to post it (in this screenshot the naughty bits are cropped, and even though she’s now released it, I’m not linking to the image because, be better than that).

In posting it, Cummings notes that “They all must think I?m way more famous than I am, but they also must think I?m way more easily intimidated than I am. If anyone is gonna make money or likes off my nipple, it?s gonna be me. So here it all is, you foolish dorks.” Lots of people are, rightly, coming out to support her — and are sending embarrassing pictures of themselves to her.

She does claim that others are threatening to blackmail her by saying that they’ve got access to her iCloud, but notes:

I’ll be honest, I stand by most of my nudes. Frankly I’m way more embarrassed by all the inspirational quotes I’ve screen grabbed.

And, later, she posted those embarrassing screen grabs.

One other interesting note: she points out that she won’t reveal who’s been trying to extort her, because:

I’m not posting the names of the people trying to extort me because some of them might be dumb kids. I wouldn’t want the stupid ideas I had when I was a teenager to follow me around forever or else every time someone Googled me, they’d see me shoplifting a NO FEAR t-shirt. .

This is a good example of confronting awfulness and turning it into something… better. I wouldn’t say it’s a “good” outcome, because it’s not at all clear that Cummings wanted this image out otherwise. And so I’m left to thinking about various attempts to create revenge porn laws. Would they ding this photo itself as revenge porn? Yes, Cummings herself eventually posted it, but only under the threat of having it leaked by some jackass if she didn’t pay up. One could easily argue that that situation is far from consensual. Some of the laws might say it doesn’t violate the law — since Cummings posting it herself is a sign of consent. But how would you square that with cases where these same kinds of idiots threaten to release photos or information on women if they don’t “send nudes.” In those cases, many young women do, in fact, send nude pictures, feeling it’s their only way out — but that’s (again) very, very, very far from “consensual.”

This is not to argue one way or the other on this — other than to note that there are tough calls on this, and attempts to create laws against “revenge porn” could lead to situations where Cummings’ own actions might be seen to violate those laws, even though it’s a case of her taking control over a shitty situation and flipping the script a bit.

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Comments on “Whitney Cummings Posts (Partially) Nude Photo Of Herself In Response To Blackmail Threat; Is That Revenge Porn?”

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37 Comments
AricTheRed says:

It would seem that this revenge porn instance is covered by...

"California Penal Code Section 518 PC, extortion (commonly referred to as "blackmail") is a criminal offense that involves the use of force or threats to compel another person into providing money or property,…"

As it appears that W. Cummings is a CA resident she has all the evidence she needs to go to her local Police Dept. & make a criminal complaint.

As she is a public figure, where her speech is louder than that of the average person, she may get some traction with the Local PD & DA’s office.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: It would seem that this revenge porn instance is covered by.

Don’t think you read the article.

Whitney here was a victim of attempted blackmail. Multiple attempts, it seems. But she explicitly isn’t seeking criminal punishment, and the article isn’t really about that. Commenting on her legal remedies therefore is not really on topic.

The article is about how, due to the way revenge porn laws have been written, her actions to shut down the blackmail, namely exposing the embarrassing information ( a photo) herself could be considered revenge porn. Generally, going to the police can not prevent a public release of the material you are blackmailed with, assuming that is threatened action. Most who do go to the police under threat of public release will then also release that information themselves, to preempt the market so to speak and control the narrative. But a law about posting photos without consent might see her release of that photo solely in reaction to the blackmail attempt as still nonconsensual. You might say that in this case the law might hold her accountable for exploiting herself.

As the article notes, we would assume the law would see her posting as her providing consent, but we have examples otherwise. We can see this exploiting yourself strangeness in the way 16 and 17 year olds can be charged with creation and distribution of child porn, for pictures of themselves. And as the article notes, we can certainly conceive of situations that are on the surface similar, but we certainly wouldn’t consider consensual.

So the discussion present in the title of the article is around questions of how the various proposals for revenge porn laws might react to this complex situation.

AricTheRed says:

Re: Re: It would seem that this revenge porn instance is covered

James,

My overt attempt to affirm that there are existing remedies for "Revenge Porn", as stated in the beginning of this article, appears to be missed here, by you.

I do however thank you profusely for explaining, in detail, the very difficult parts of the piece for me, & everyone else here in the comments section too.

By the way, your review of this news article for todays current events assignment deserves an A+. It’s gonna really pick up that GPA. Good Job!

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: It would seem that this revenge porn instance is cov

Your decision to explain that the blackmail described in the article you replied to as blackmail is in fact blackmail (the blackmail itself was never described as revenge porn) was wildly off point. Blackmail largely can’t be revenge porn, as the blackmailer only retains leverage if the photos aren’t posted. There is a means of blackmail via revenge porn relying on taking the photos down, but that isn’t this situation.

That was why I assumed you didn’t read the article – the pattern of facts in the blackmail aren’t revenge porn. Revenge porn only comes in when the blackmailed posted the photos. To explain that this revenge porn is actually blackmail is to suggest that, indeed it is revenge porn and somehow Whitney is blackmailing herself.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It would seem that this revenge porn instance is

Perhaps the TL;DR version:

The article explains that it was blackmail. Every state and the federal government criminalizes blackmail. We don’t need a citation on the exact law, particularly as you miss the more likely federal crime (18 U.S. Code § 873) (odds are, the blackmailer was in a different state than the victim). You post does exactly what you criticize me of, covering information already in the article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

I’m afraid you’re still missing the point.

Extortion and revenge porn are two different subjects which overlap in this instance, but also exist separately of each other.

Someone could publish nonconsensual photographs of me, without ever informing me they possessed these photographs, or intended to publish them, or demanding something from me in exchange for not publishing them.

That would be revenge porn. It would not be extortion or blackmail.

AricTheRed (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 How very Presidential of you.

While there are many categories of crimes that are different when Attempted vs Completed Extortion is not one of them.

We were not talking about Murder vs Attempted Murder, or Breaking & Entering vs Burglary.

Obstruction of Justice & Extortion, Just like the various Conspiracy crimes are THE SAME CRIME weather successful or not.

Hence the “very Presidential” subject line.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Let’s see if you get the picture now.

Extortion/blackmail is a crime. Posting revenge porn is a crime. Extortion/blackmail is not the same thing as posting revenge porn.

The article posits this idea: The victim of an attempted extortion/blackmail scheme who posts a pornographic image of themselves could be considered a purveyor of revenge porn. After all, they would have posted a pornographic image of someone against that someone’s will. That said “someone” is the poster themselves would be beside the point if looking at revenge porn laws in a strictly technical light. Therein lies an issue with revenge porn laws that could use some addressing by lawmakers.

AricTheRed (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Just so everyone knows, I’m glad to get people fired up.

And I’m very aware of how bad laws are most used for bad reasons, in bad ways, while existing less bad laws could be used in less bad ways.

That was My point.

FFS. I once refused to sign up for parking at my employers new bldg via the recommended web address, because the credentials we were given would violate the TOS on the 3rd party parking vendors website, a possible CFAA violation. So I did it via snail mail.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 How very Presidential of you.

While there are many categories of crimes that are different when Attempted vs Completed Extortion is not one of them.

No, but revenge porn is.

We were not talking about Murder vs Attempted Murder, or Breaking & Entering vs Burglary.

No, you were talking about blackmail versus revenge porn.

This is blackmail. It isn’t revenge porn.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It would seem that this revenge porn instance is

There is a connection between blackmail and revenge porn, but usually it’s the website that hosts revenge porn posted by others trying to collect from victims for a promise to take down the offending images. This case doesn’t fall into the revenge porn category except (possibly) under poorly written laws and website user agreements.

TheResidentSkeptic (profile) says:

taking it a step further...

So the blackmailer had a figure in mind, to earn money from his acquisition of said photos; she by her actions has blocked his earning of that expected income; therefore, he can now sue her for our old favorite, Felony Interference with a Business Model.

And we all know how sacred "expected sales" income is…

Anonymous Coward says:

Most actress,s appear topless in movies or tv shows ,drama,s at some point in their career.
It sounds like she wants to stop further attempts at blackmail
and also believes the blackmailer maybe teens or at least under 21.
I hope she changes the password on her iphone and her icloud account login,
It sounds they may have got acess to her icloud account .

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Objection!

Oh, one thing I want to point out here, there’s nothing wrong with actresses or actors doing nudity in movies. I don’t believe nudity is always pornography. It’s not something dirty that needs to be hidden. The puritanical morons that campaign against the slightest hint of skin turn my stomach. Especially since they often wind up getting caught in sex scandals. Makes one wonder if they’re deliberately trying to divert attention.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Nipple Insanity

I still have hope that the chaos of the internet will result in a more sane attitude toward nudity and sexuality. The perverse political union between sex-negative third wave feminists and evangelical puritans can’t last in this onlikne reality. To paraphrase an old slogan "when nudity is outlawed, only outlaws will be naked" would lead to a state where we are all outlaws at one time or another.

Nudity shaming (and more generally, body shaming) says more about the state of mind of the beholder than of the nude person. The fact that so many people allow themselves to be shamed by people who should be minding their own business is, regrettably, one of the hardest things to change in American society (and others). Ms. Cummings and others who take the proactive approach are the trailblazers on a road to a more rational society.

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