Leslie Jones may no longer legally possess the nude photographs that hackers posted to her website in late August—but as a comedian with a powerful social-media presence, she can own how the event gets covered, as she demonstrated in a powerful skit over the weekend for Saturday Night Live.
Playing a commentator brought onto the fictional news broadcast Weekend Update to talk about cybersecurity, Jones dismissed the hack of her personal website as “nothing” given that her public performances tend to reveal embarrassing information about her (or her public persona’s) personal life anyway. “I don’t know if you know this about me, but I ain’t shy,” Jones told anchor Colin Jost. “I keep my porn in a folder labeled ‘Porn.’ If you want to see Leslie Jones naked, just ask.”
As we wrote in an article in August, once information is leaked onto the Internet, it no longer falls into the United States’ “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard, and the information, however sensitive, is considered to be in the public domain. While subjects of an attack might sue the hacker for copyright infringement or invoke “revenge porn” or harassment laws in some states, it’s ultimately very difficult to seek retribution from those who share that information with malicious intent. Celebrities, whose private information is of greater interest to the public, are particularly at risk to fall into this legal bind; and while celebrities maintain a “right to publicity,” non-hackers who repurpose hacked information are often protected by the First Amendment, such as in the case of ETW Corp. v. Jireh Publishing, Inc., which allowed a poster company to repurpose three images of golfer Tiger Woods winning the Masters Tournament in 1997.
But in Saturday’s SNL skit, Jones showed she wasn’t exactly feeling particularly vulnerable as a public figure. Rather, she argued that nude photos are a poor way to attempt to shame a tell-all comedian. “Trust me, at a certain point you stop being embarrassed and start being you,” she says in the skit, seemingly referring to her fame. “The only person who can hack me is me.”
Those remarks represented a shift from Jones’ own, relatively quiet public address of the hack since it made headlines in late August; following the incident, Jones has since made light of the event in two separate sketches, one at the Emmys and one previously in SNL, both of which involved her consulting experts to help secure her private information. This week’s sketch, which placed Jones in the position of the consulting expert, telegraphed that she doesn’t need anyone’s help to deal with Internet trolls, whom she can fight herself, and with her own comedy routines—further solidifying her role as an unofficial advocate against online bullying.
The sketch won’t correct the fact that Jones faces an uphill battle if she intends to prosecute the trolls that spread her nude photos on 4chan; but it did powerfully rebuke a sadly typical tactic for silencing women online in 2016. By countering non-consensual leaks of private information with her own skit about even more sensitive times in her life, Jones proved that a nude-photo attack just provides even richer material for her outspoken comedy.