Bella Thorne sparked conversation after tweeting topless photographs a hacker had attempted to blackmail her with.
The 21-year-old actor and singer tweeted screenshots of messages she received from the hacker, who had attempted to use the private images to exert control over her.
By sharing these screenshots, Bella has asserted she will ‘sleep better knowing I took my power back’, with her refusal to let the hacker control her life winning her much admiration among fans.
Bella received the hacker’s messages while busy promoting her book of poetry, The Life of a Wannabe Mogul: Mental Disarray.
This should have been a thrilling and creative moment in her career, and an opportunity to show her skills as a poet. However, her happiness was blighted by cruel threats which left her in tears.
Bella shared an account of her experiences on Twitter, explaining her decision to share the photographs on her terms:
Yesterday as u all know all my sh*t was hacked. For the last 24 hours I have been threatened with my own nudes I feel gross, I feel watched, I feel someone has taken something from me that I only wanted one special person to see.
He has sent me multiple nude photos of other celebs, he won’t stop with me or them he will just keep going.
For too long I let a man take advantage of me over and over and I’m f*cking sick of it, I’m putting this out because it’s MY DECISION NOW U DON’T GET TO TAKE YET ANOTHER THING FROM ME.
I can sleep tonight better knowing I took my power back. U can’t control my life u never will.
Here’s the photos he’s been threatening me with, in other words here’s my boobies. So here f*ck u, and the last 24 hours I have been crying instead of celebrating my book while doing my book press. Oh yea, the FBI will be at your house shortly, so watch. Your. Mother. F*ckin. Back.
By taking this strikingly bold stance, Bella effectively removed the threat the blackmailer had taunted her with, using her personal story to show such malicious individuals as the cowards they are.
No doubt fans who’ve had similar experiences will have taken some comfort from Bella opening up and controlling the narrative.
Indeed, many commented on Bella’s post to commend her courage in the face of threats and intimidation. Refusing to be humiliated by what are perfectly normal private photographs, Bella has shown remarkable confidence.
One fan commented, ‘You took the power back from this piece of sh*t. That’s real strength’. Another remarked, ‘Holy sh*t, what a badass move’.
However, it’s important to remember Bella’s circumstances and formidable outreach make her situation quite different from many others influenced by blackmail. This may not be as empowering for those without Bella’s enormous platform and self-assured personality.
UNILAD spoke with Sophie Mortimer, a helpline manager at The Revenge Porn Helpline who – despite applauding Bella’s ‘bravery and confidence’ – does not recommend those being blackmailed share their intimate pictures.
Mortimer told UNILAD:
We were saddened to see that yet another person has had their private images stolen in this way and used to threaten and harass them. It is completely unacceptable for someone’s personal and private content to be abused in this way: the person who owns that content, and appears in it, is the only person who has the right to decide who sees it.
While we absolutely applaud the bravery and confidence that Bella Thorne has displayed in standing up to this abuse, this is not going to be the case for everyone. We would not recommend anybody publishing or sharing intimate images online, their own or especially anyone else’s.
The Revenge Porn Helpline was established in 2015 coinciding with newly implemented UK legislation intended to protect revenge pornography victims.
According to a 2018 evaluation report, the helpline had 4,337 contacts with clients between April 2017 and March 2018, offering individual support and advice.
They also provided practical assistance to 1,177 individual clients attempting to have online images and videos removed from websites and social media platforms.
The majority of people who contact us with similar issues do not have the desire, confidence or platform to respond in this way and have personal and professional lives that will suffer severe negative impacts if their own content is shared.
The Revenge Porn Helpline is here to support anyone in the UK who has had their intimate images shared without their consent or who is being threatened with such sharing.
Sadly, there are still some very old fashioned views knocking about which keep those who’ve had their private images leaked feeling ashamed, and even at fault.
It has been disappointing to hear Whoopi Goldberg – a hero to many women in the entertainment industry – take an unforgiving and decidedly unsympathetic stance on Bella’s painful predicament.
Speaking on her talk show The View, 63-year-old Whoopi chastised Bella for taking the photographs in the first place, stating:
If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are. You don’t take nude photos of yourself,
If you don’t know this in 2019, that this is an issue, I’m sorry…You cannot be surprised if someone’s hacked you, especially if you have stuff on your phone.
It has been frustrating to watch how quickly this story has turned into a debate over whether Bella is a victim or not, with this moral high ground take being frustrating to say the least.
Being taunted with your intimate pictures only to have your actions scrutinised so publicly must be an extremely traumatic experience, no matter how famous you are.
Bella has since given a very clear response to Whoopi’s remarks, taking to Instagram to announce she would be boycotting The View altogether:
Shame on you Whoopi. Shame on you for putting that public opinion out there like that for every young girl to think that they’re disgusting for even taking a photo like that. Shame on you.
So by Whoopi’s definition “hackers will find it / don’t put it out there”, we shouldn’t have anything online? I can’t buy stuff cuz of credit card hackers? I can’t have an online footprint or even a phone because of hackers? Bella sent a pic to her bf. Stand down Whoopi 🙄
— Angi Taylor (@AngiTaylorKISS) June 19, 2019
With many people having experienced the anguish of being blackmailed, it’s sad that this unhelpful, victim blaming view is still being held by respected, high profile figures such as Whoopi.
UNILAD spoke with Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert and VPN reviewer at ProPrivacy.com about Whoopi’s controversial take.
Walsh told UNILAD:
I think it’s a very personal viewpoint, and it’s a very silly viewpoint. Everybody’s allowed to have their own personal opinion, and I’m not going to criticise Whoopi too much, but the problem is that it’s quite an outdated point of view.
We have these technologies now, and to say that people shouldn’t be able to pass around whatever they want in privacy is ridiculous.
We have pornography, we have adult content. We know that this is a part of the world. We know that people choose to do this as their career.
We know that people have consenting sex. We know that people procreate. So then to say that people can’t also share privately their nude bodies I think is an absolutely ridiculous position.
With Whoopi’s voice being so influential, it’s a real shame she didn’t use her global platform to condemn the hackers who cause this sort of misery in the first place; to address the very real damage caused by such cruel violations of privacy.
.@bellathorne is the V-I-C-T-I-M. End of story. There is no two sides of this argument. Any conversation otherwise is bonkers.
— Josh Gad (@joshgad) June 19, 2019
In May 2019, according to the BBC, figures from 19 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales showed the number of alleged revenge porn cases being investigated more than doubled over the last four years, soaring from 852 in 2015-16 to 1,853 in 2018-19.
However, the number of charges during this same time period plummeted by 23 per cent, from 207 to 158. At the moment, revenge porn is categorised as a communications crime, and so victims are not afforded the anonymity they would have receive if this was classed as a sexual offence.
Over a third of revenge porn victims in the last year made the decision not to proceed with the case. Some have said this was because of the lack of anonymity, while others felt they didn’t get enough support from police officers.
Views like the one espoused by Whoopi do not help those who are already feeling as if they are being held accountable for something horrible which has happened to them.
Speaking with UNILAD, Walsh continued:
I’m definitely on the side of the victims here, and I’m always on the side of people being able to do what they want with their data.
And that’s why privacy is so important, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, whether it’s any of the services that store data on behalf of consumers.
They have to be so careful, and they have to really put people’s privacy right at the front of their product because we are living in a world where people should be able to use these technologies safely and without consequences.
My heart truly broke seeing @bellathorne’s Instagram stories. NO woman or man should ever have to apologize for taking pictures of their body for someone CONSENSUALLY. Society needs to stop blaming the VICTIMS & address the real issue here & that’s the fact Bella was violated.
— Hailey Reese (@itshaileyreese) June 19, 2019
Walsh has also spoken with UNILAD about what practical steps people can take to keep their nudes safe:
There are things you can do to sext more safely, but the main issue at the core of sexting safety is the recipient problem.
The problem you’ve got as soon as you pass a sext over with images or whatever, something private and personal, the other person receives them and then they have the power to share those with their friends, put them online, revenge porn in the future if you have a fall out.
You love that person now, but things could change. And it might not even be a case of something really mean. The perpetrator might not be really mean and doing revenge porn or whatever.
It might just be as simple as they show it to some friends in private. They could just share it with some friends this weekend and you’d never know, and in a way, that’s still eroding your privacy.
So as soon as you pass anything over, no matter what it is, you are opening yourself up to the possibility that could be shared.
What we always talk about in the security world is doing personal threat analysis. And if your threat analysis is low because you feel like you can share a sext with your loved one, then there are ways also to improve your security.
For example, you can send that with end to end encryption using a messenger like WhatsApp or Signal. And if you fall into what’s called a ‘middle man attack’ – when someone intercepts that and takes it – you can ensure that it’s not visible by your internet service provider by using a VPN encryption for example.
Whether you’re considered skinny or fat, pretty or ugly, women will always be judged for their bodies and it absolutely disgusted me to hear what @WhoopiGoldberg had to say about @bellathorne ‘s nudes being leaked and used as blackmail against her.
— Jess🌼 (@JessieGalli) June 18, 2019
If somebody has obtained or shared private images without your consent, it’s important to remember you are not on your own. There are informed people out there who can help.
Although it may well be tempting to share the pictures yourself in a show of defiance, it’s always best to seek advice and work through things in a way that will leave you feeling safe and empowered in the long term. Regaining control can be found in other ways.
Most importantly, remember the fault in these cases lies completely at the door of the perpetrator. Do not let judgemental opinions shame you into thinking you are not worthy of speaking out against injustices committed against you.
This whole Bella Thorne thing is really messing with my head. A lot of people are giving the ‘if you dont want your photos leaked, dont take them’ argument and that veers a LITTLE too close to the ‘if you don’t want to be sexually assaulted don’t wear revealing clothes’ argument
— Jake Anderson (@Simple_Cinema) June 19, 2019
If you have been victim to image based abuse and need advice and support from a Revenge Porn Helpline practitioner, you can: call, email, request a call back or send an anonymous ‘whisper’ message via a webform.
The helpline is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays. You can call 0345 6000 459 or request a callback by emailing [email protected] with a contact number and convenient time to call.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.