the frequency a kenny chung blog

Jennifer Lawrence playing with her iPhone

This is the opening line of a blog post I never thought I’d have to write: this blog post covers the topic of nude selfies and online masturbation culture, and as a result, may not be safe for work.

On August 31, a deluge of nude celebrity photos was leaked onto the internet. In the past, we’ve seen similar isolated incidents (Scarlett Johansson and Rihanna, for example), but the leak that occurred over Labor Day weekend was unprecedented: it included photos of dozens of celebrities (including Jennifer Lawrence, Victoria Justice, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande).

It quickly became fodder for tabloids, Twitter users, and journalists on the 24-hour news cycle. And as is typically the case when you have non-tech journalists reporting on technology and Internet culture, there was a severe lack of information at play. I know I’ve made a habit of picking on CNN, but it is never without warrant. For instance, the following video:

Let’s ignore the fact that this Brett Larson is obviously underqualified to be CNN’s “Technology Analyst”. But there are so many things wrong with what he’s said in this clip. Most of these things could have been easily fixed with a simple visit to Know Your Meme.

To clear some things up:

4chan is not a person. It is a message board located at On that site, there are many sub-forums, known by shorthand abbreviations. For instance, /v/ is the Video Games forum, and /mu/ is for Music.

And then there’s /b/, which stands for Random, because why not? It’s where anything goes, including porn, gore, illegal porn, file sharing, coordinated cyber-bullying, and even some hacking. /b/ is also typically what uninformed journalists think all of 4chan is.

To be clear, using “4chan” as a metonym for “/b/” is as inaccurate as saying reddit’s now-defunct /r/jailbait sub-reddit represented the whole community (which happened all too often during the 2012 scandal).

Now, Anonymous refers to a collective of “hackers” or “hactivists” with a cause. The problem (and genius) of using this name is that literally anybody can be part of Anonymous. Occupy Wall Street protesters in Guy Fawkes masks called themselves Anonymous. A high school kid participating in a low-level DDoS attack can be Anonymous. The people who leaked information related to the Steubenville High School rape case were Anonymous. They even made Time Magazine’s 2012’s list of The World’s 100 Most Influential People. The biggest mistake that journalists make with regard to Anonymous is to pigeonhole them into a single agenda. It is a group with almost no central leadership, all using the same name for purposes of solidarity and obfuscation. They can use their powers to correct what they believe to be political injustices, or they can just completely dox someone (i.e. share their private information online) for the “lulz” (i.e. just because they think it’s entertaining). That said, there is a high likelihood that Anonymous and 4chan users from /b/ were involved with the celebrity phone hacking in some way.

Some more terminology that you’ll hear include “The Fappening”. The name is an obvious reference to the terrible M. Night Shyamalan movie The Happening. It was likely coined by 4chan/reddit, but was definitely popularized by reddit by way of /r/TheFappening, a community devoted to covering the leaked celebrity photos. This sub-reddit became the fastest growing for the month, with over 55,000 subscribers in about a week’s time.

The popularity of /r/TheFappening

Now, for some “lulz”. “The Fappening” derives from the term “fap”, which is used as an onomatopoeic euphemism for masturbation. It is both a noun and a verb, though the latter is more common. For instance, there’s a community on reddit for the 30 day no-masturbation challenge (a la Seinfeld) called /r/NoFap. With all due seriousness, it’s undeniably hilarious when established news sources adopt the term “The Fappening” because of all of its sophomoric connotations.

Here are some other terms that you’ll probably see thrown around in relation to this scandal:

iCloud: The cloud refers to saving data on the internet for backup, sharing, and syncing purposes. iCloud is the service that Apple uses for its devices, including iPhones. It has been speculated that there was a security breach involving iCloud that led to the leak of all these photos.

Brute forcing refers to utilizing all possible key combinations in order to gain access to someone’s account. In the CNN video above, their “technology analyst” implies that a hacker brute forced their way into all of these celebrity’s accounts, which is a preposterous claim.

Hacking and Hacker are both extremely loaded terms, typically with negative connotations. At its fundamental definition, a hacker bypasses a computer or device’s security in order to gain access to files or systems. This can be done for improving security, or for more nefarious purposes. In the common tech vernacular, a Cracker refers to hackers who partake in criminal activity.

White Knighting is an Internet slang term that refers to when people (typically men) defend strangers (typically women) from online criticisms due to some romantic attraction. It can also refer to what’s happening when “journalists” and celebrities refer to the hackers as pathetic, pervy basement dwellers or calling people who view leaked photos sexual molesters.

Victim blaming: Let’s try our best not do this.

Note: Like my last post regarding the Newtown shooting, I am not intending to make light of the tragedy that occurred or the 26 lives lost. This post is written strictly from the perspective of a mass communications scholar.

1) United States vs. China

On literally the same calendar date as the Newtown shooting, a man in China attacked and slashed 22 schoolchildren with a knife. The similarities between this and the Newtown tragedy are jarring. In addition to the choice of weapon, the most noteworthy difference was that not a single child died in China from that incident. It’s also well known that China has very strict gun control laws.

I won’t make the leap to causation, but it’s very hard to divorce the two ideas. The fact that two attacks on different sides of the world took place on the same day, and the one that occurred in a country with strong gun laws meant all of those schoolchildren are still alive today.

This story has the potential to be a very important talking point in the impending gun control debate in the States. But what I find most interesting is that this anecdotal evidence can be reasonably used by both sides of the debate. The pro gun control group can say that if guns were not as easily available, then Newtown may have ended the same way as the incident in China. The anti gun control group can say that violence is going to occur anyway and that it’s in our human nature, and that we need to be able to protect ourselves from those who are unbalanced. Also worth noting is that schoolchildren attacks in China are surprisingly and disturbingly not uncommon.

Smoking gun HDR photo
credit: HD-Photography2000

2) Social Media as News Sources

In my previous blog post, I touched upon how I think CNN’s over-reliance on social media and crowdsourcing for their reporting is lazy and bad for the news industry.

But that’s not the whole story. Consider the fact that if Facebook didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have firsthand accounts of Ryan Lanza declaring his innocence (and the fact that he was alive).

Consider this Reddit thread in /r/Connecticut, where a user made up-to-the-minute updates regarding the latest breaking news. In a world where it’s hard to recant statements or reports, the ability to edit or update content on the web makes so much sense.

3) News vs. Pseudo-News

Regarding that last point, I would not consider Slate a source for breaking news. I have long viewed it as an editorial and blog-like news magazine. But when CNN misreported the identity of the Newtown shooter, it was organizations like Slate that responded with the truth.

With the Internet becoming the preferred choice for receiving news from a larger percentage of people, the line between strict news organizations and “pseudo-news” sites is further blurred. Consider a site like Buzzfeed, that largely started out as a gossip and funny image-sharing site. During the last election, they had a Mormon writer on Mitt Romney’s bus reporting from his perspective how religion was involved in the campaign.

With the reliability of the big name news organizations increasingly being called into question, it’s getting hard to know who to go to for the hard facts.

Just ask NPR. They took a big shot in credibility back in 2011 when it misreported that Representative Gabby Giffords had died.

4) Racial Issues

It’s no secret that ever since 9/11, the race of violent perpetrators is always brought to the forefront. For instance, when someone of foreign descent commits an atrocity, it’s usually quickly chalked up to terrorism by select members of the media (e.g. the Fort Hood shooting from 2009). But how many times have you heard Timothy McVeigh called a domestic terrorist? What about extreme zealots who commit crimes against abortion clinics? These are clearly acts of domestic terrorism, but they’re very rarely addressed as such by the mainstream media. Which is what led to Bob Schieffer making a very poignant hypothetical on Face the Nation. Schieffer said, “If this person had… an Arab name, people would be going nuts.” See the abbreviated video clip below:

There’s no doubt in my mind that that would’ve been the case. In fact, I know that some people of Middle Eastern descent hold their breath whenever they find out that an act of violence has occurred on American soil, hoping that it’s not someone of their ethnicity. I even remember two years after the Virginia Tech shooting, there was another act of violence in Binghamton, NY where an Asian man went postal at an immigration office and killed 13 others. There was a short-lived time when race relations between Asian-Americans and other Americans suffered, but luckily, there weren’t any real residual effects. However, Muslims and Arab-Americans have not been so lucky.

As insensitive as it may seem to state this, the fact that the Newtown shooter was a white, American male (and not anyone with a foreign sounding name or skin complexion) is a lot better for our national discourse. The media can focus on the two biggest issues at hand that they usually throw to the wayside for sensationalist, xenophobic fear mongering. Gun control and mental illness are the major topics of discussion, rather than the race or nationality of the shooter.

There are many more reasons why the Newtown shooting can and should be one of the biggest stories of the year and also a media case study for years to come. I’m sure once the gun debate actually happens on a national stage, it will become clearer how these factors helped shape the narrative. And hopefully for the better.

January 19th, 2012
according to

Note: This article is not about verifying identities in social media; that’s way too boring. This post is about the sense of validation that motivates people to use social media more and more.

The need to be validated is what drives modern society. It falls within the top two sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (New Year’s Resolution: Stop relating every marketing concept to Maslow?). And this need translates over very nicely to social media and its users. The first word is the key one: social. Social networks are about interacting, but networking is also about creating new connections that did not previously exist. And therein lies the promise of social media for the everyday users- the ability to receive validation from another person, whether it’s the cute girl from Chemistry class Liking your status on Facebook, a customer service rep responding to your complaints on Yelp, a movie star responding to your Tweet/answering a question, striking up a casual conversation with the CEO of a tech startup you’re interested in working for. Whatever the case may be, the (potential) feedback loop is what drives many users to engage. I’m going to use this post to highlight a few social networks that are doing this right.

Why do people use Quora?

Quora markets itself as being THE place where anybody is able to receive expert answers to any question. In this sense, Quora mainly relies on the quality of responses to drive engagement. But sometimes this even lends itself to some surprises. Take the example below: in this thread, someone asked a general question about how JJ Abrams started his movie-making career… and JJ Abrams himself popped by to personally answer the question!

JJ Abrams answering questions on Quora
JJ Abrams was definitely the expert on the subject matter (click to enlarge)

Amazing that he would take the time out of his day to answer an anonymous person’s question just because he knew he would be the best source for an answer. It also shows that he cares for his fans and is willing to reward them for their fandom and devotion. Really awesome. No one can argue that that isn’t the single best answer for that question. (Full disclosure: I love Fringe!)

Why do people use Reddit?

In the same vein, Reddit has become the “it” social sharing site. It has completely eclipsed Digg, StumbleUpon, and all the others. It has done so by fostering a community where any and all questions can be asked and answered, with no apparent limits to genuine curiosity. And the community has grown so large (and full of educated students and professionals) that there’s almost always someone qualified to answer your questions, no matter how obscure (consider this thread about hair dryers.) The AskReddit threads are similar to Quora, but with a typically lower signal to noise ratio.

And occasionally on Reddit (actually at least a few times a month at this point), someone famous creates an account solely to answer Redditors’ questions. In recent memory, there’s been Louis CK, Jeopardy Champion Ken Jennings, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen T. Colbert, and countless others. During these days, a lucky few have their questions answered by someone they likely revere, or at least respect, for their body of work and also for allowing random Internet users to ask them almost anything. It’s a bi-directional relationship- the users that help build the community are rewarded with recognition from people who would otherwise likely never be able to interact with them. Now that’s powerful stuff.

Reddit AMA 2 Girls 1 Cup
Admittedly, sometimes not the most powerful stuff

Why do people use Twitter?

Twitter is arguably the most frictionless social media service there is. Anybody can create an account and there are no barriers to Tweeting something at anybody else, celebrities and other famous individuals included. I myself have had some fleeting conversations with music artists I adore, industry thought leaders, Google Webspam Team Overlord Matt Cutts, among others (#HumbleBrag). And that’s the kind of validation people are searching for when they first hear about Twitter, decide that it’s not too stupid, and then sign up and write their first Tweet directed at someone they don’t personally know. Twitter is the social media platform of aspiration.

You can even get a response to the most inane of requests, like having a RoboCop statue erected by the mayor of Detroit.

JJ Abrams answering questions on Quora

What does this all mean to brands and individuals active in the online or social media space? In short, technology has enabled more of us to communicate with each other and with strangers who had once only been available through very specific channels. Now that it’s socially acceptable to ask questions/make comments and expect answers/responses, doing so has become a routine part of our online lives. Whether you’re a musician on Facebook, a blogger with an active comments section, a customer service rep on Twitter, or whatever else, it will only work to your benefit to provide users with the best answers (barring any huge PR gaffes). You need some give and some take to complete the feedback loop.

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