Monthly Archives: October 2014

#ifmyphonegothacked: “Nothing to Hide” with a Side of Victim-Blaming

The “nothing to hide” argument has been a common fixture of post-Snowden discussion about surveillance and privacy. Most likely, you’ve heard some iteration of it in conversation—“I have nothing to hide, so why would I care if the government knows who I call on my cell phone?” Widely considered a fallacious argument by cybersecurity and legal experts, the “nothing to hide” argument also contains implicit assumptions about the divide between public and private–themes that pervade our discussions of digital communication more broadly. Most notably, shades of the “nothing to hide” argument appeared in recent discussions surrounding the leak of nude celebrity photos stolen from iCloud.


In the “nothing to hide” argument, citizenship trumps privacy—the statement declares that one is willing to exchange the privacy of their information for increased national security. With this in mind, many have objected to the “nothing to hide” argument for its legal implications. For instance, danah boyd wrote that the argument fails to consider the ways that data can be manipulated and filtered to cast an individual as guilty, and in so doing, it comes dangerously close to bypassing the “innocent until proven guilty” standard on which U.S. justice allegedly rests.


Importantly, the “nothing to hide” argument also rests on a conception of privacy as a form of secrecy, as Daniel Solove wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Rather than seeing privacy as an essential right that contributes to a healthy life, the “nothing to hide” argument rests on a deep skepticism about why anyone would desire to keep certain information private. Additionally, as Solove notes, privacy is a particularly difficult concept to articulate. He writes that:

It is a plurality of different things that do not share any one element but nevertheless bear a resemblance to one another. For example, privacy can be invaded by the disclosure of your deepest secrets. It might also be invaded if you’re watched by a peeping Tom, even if no secrets are ever revealed.

The difficulty of articulating privacy means that, in instances where an individual claims their privacy has been invaded, they are often met with resistance. For instance, someone spied on by a peeping Tom may find their claim to privacy invalidated because of vague laws that fail to accurately define a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In digital environments, this becomes all the more fraught.


After the September 2014 release of nude celebrity photos (crudely nicknamed “The Fappening”), a strain of commentary emerged that highlighted the public/private tension of the “nothing to hide” argument. In the aftermath of the leak, many took to Twitter with the hashtag #ifmyphonegothacked. These posts were often jokes about the fact that the users in question only had the most innocuous pictures phones—excessive animal photos, photos of food, and so on. The tweet generally included an example of the type of picture on the user’s phone, and sometimes included a comment that the user was “smart enough” not to take nude selfies.  As Jill Scharr notes, this not only misses the point that the leak was an invasion of privacy due to lax security on iCloud’s part, but crosses over into victim-blaming and moralizing.


The #ifmyphonegothacked tweets point to the same misconception about privacy that pervades the “nothing to hide” argument—that privacy is a form of secrecy, and thus should be regarded with suspicion. In arguing that the most scandalous photo a hacker would be likely to find on one’s device is an awkward (clothed) selfie sent to a friend, and by posting this photo along with the #ifmyphonegothacked hashtag, the user is putting seemingly private or embarrassing content on a public forum. The subtext here is that while, yes, it may be embarrassing for a third party to see the photos, the user has nothing to hide—and that if you do have something to hide, you have done something wrong.


In this way, the #ifmyphonegothacked hashtag makes a much more chilling statement—that the women in question are in the wrong for maintaining private lives, for using their devices to express their sexuality (an increasingly common phenomenon). As Kelsey McKinney writes:

In reality, few people are above this. There is nothing wrong with libido, nothing wrong with sending a picture or a video or a snapchat to another consenting adult. What’s wrong about these photos isn’t that they exist or that they were shown on the internet. What’s wrong is that they were taken and distributed without consent from the parties involved.

In this way, the #ifmyphonegothacked hashtag not only misses the point about the crime at hand, but combines one of the most problematic arguments about security and privacy with the cultural bias against female sexual expression.


While the difficulty of articulating a right to privacy in digital environments remains a problem, some of the responses taken after the hacking and theft do hint at potential solutions. For example, 4chan (the message board site where the photos were initially posted) instituted a DMCA policy that would allow victims of hacking to have their photos removed on copyright grounds. However, these solutions come no closer to preventing these leaks in the first place, and certainly do not make up for the violation suffered by those whose intimate images are posted—violations that occur as much through the revelation of the images as well as the shaming and victim-blaming that follows.

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Curing the “Hangover”: Psy, Snoop, and the Potential for Cultural Exchange in Hip-hop



Most conversations about non-black performers in hip-hop involve discussions of “cultural appropriation,” with the language of “cultural exchange” reserved for only the most sunny-eyed racial apologists. Given the music industry’s dark history with whitewashing, many have been quick to point out the problematic politics of artists like Macklemore and Iggy Azalea as high risers in the rap genre. Despite the upsettingly true narrative of constant exploitation, Korean rapper Psy presents a compelling case as a non-black artist breaking the trend.

When Psy’s “Gangnam Style” flooded airwaves and Facebook walls in 2012, I was hesitantly optimistic about the introduction of Korean music to mainstream America. It was about time the garishness and flash of Korean pop culture traveled west, despite the possibility of audiences “Columbusing” it. “Gangnam Style” was the perfect vehicle for such an introduction; it had the wacky dance moves, an ounce of sheer absurdity, and numerous cameos by prominent Korean actors and actresses. However, the flair and memetic qualities of the music video eventually wore off, relegating the hit to the annals of future bar trivia questions. As a coup de grâce to any hopes of an authentically Korean presence in the American consciousness, Scooter Braun signed Psy. Who? Well, the guy who has traditionally signed acts that are anything but subversive: pop one-hit wonder Carly Rae Jepsen, boy band The Wanted, frat anthem rap-star Asher Roth, and Justin “The Biebs” Bieber.

Psy still kept it real, though. After attempting to replicate the success of “Gangnam Style” with a similarly themed video in 2013’s “Gentleman,” Psy went a different direction in 2014. “Hangover” and its respective music video featured Psy parading through Seoul on a drunken escapade with American rap icon Snoop Dogg. However, this appearance by Snoop was not a mere cameo, but rather, a rapping repartee that mixed both languages and styles.

Throughout the video, both rappers adopted personas more typical of the other’s culture. Psy, renowned for a hyper-campy presentation style, added several moments of gangsta posturing throughout “Hangover” one would expect in a run-of-the-mill American rap music video. As an illustration, here is a shot of Psy mean mugging the camera next to a shot of A$AP Rocky pulling a similar power move in the video for F*@%$n’ Problems.


Conversely, Snoop Dogg, who’s usually “rollin’ down the street, smokin’ indo, and sippin’ on gin n’ juice,” instead opts for many Korean vices in “Hangover.” Aside from mirroring many of Psy’s goofy dance moves, Snoop hits the spa, binge drinks soju (Korean rice liquor), and indulges in some late night karaoke. Sing it, Snoop.

While some buzzkills might describe “Hangover” as nothing more than a mindless exaltation of drunken debauchery, it actually represents a landmark moment in hip-hop: a collaboration in which the content is cross-racial and transnational, and the form genuine. Psy and Snoop not only adopt each other’s cultural markers, but also develop an equitable rapping relationship over the course of the video. This dynamic sharply contrasts with other prominent non-Black rappers, many of whom tokenize Black artists on their productions. For example, Macklemore, a suburban rapper who rose to prominence primarily on indie/pop charts, features the occasional Black rapper or singer, most notably Wanz and Schoolboy Q. However, such appearances are usually nothing more than cameos, background performances, and an opportunity for Macklemore to showcase a false commitment to diversity.

Psy, on the other hand, has made legitimate attempts to build cultural bridges beyond just the production and physical content of “Hangover.” He and Snoop notably appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, on which the two performed karaoke with Kimmel at Boardwalk 11 (a renowned Los Angeles karaoke joint). Psy began with a broken rendition of “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”, and Snoop followed with an attempt at “Gangnam Style” that came nowhere near a language anyone could call Korean. Nevertheless, the two showcased a willingness to engage each other across the Pacific in a method holistic and genuine. Cultural appropriation remains an ever-present threat in hip-hop, but Psy and Snoop Dogg have shown that the potential for redress and exchange lies in karaoke bars, not thrift shops.

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The Trial of Oscar Pistorius

After a summer hiatus, Rhetorically Speaking has returned! Check back weekly for more great posts like this one. 


In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, February 14, 2013, South African olympian Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius did admit to killing Steenkamp, but claimed that it was the result of a tragic accident, that he believed their home in Pretoria South Africa had been broken in to and he was instead shooting at an intruder. The bail hearing began on February 19, 2013, and Pistorius was formally indicted on two charges of murder and the illegal possession of ammunition. The indictment noted that even if Pistorius mistook the identity of the person he shot, his intention was to kill. The official trial began on March 3, 2014, in the High Court in Pretoria. On September 11, 2014, Pistorius was found not guilty of murdering Steenkamp, though he was found guilty of culpable homicide, defined as “the unlawful negligent killing of a human being,” and could face up to 15 years in prison.

What is particularly interesting about this case is the unprecedented media attention the trial has received, in South Africa, and abroad. Time magazine published a cover story entitled “Pistorius and South Africa’s Culture of Violence” in their March 11, 2013 issue. The magazine’s cover featured a bare-chested Pistorius with his running blades on and the words “Man, Superman, Gunman” superimposed over him. In an article for The Guardian, journalism professor Roy Greenslade described the cover image as “one of those striking cover images that bears all the hallmarks of being one that will live on for years to come.” Other media sources from Vanity Fair to Business Day have all published pieces about the trial. An e-book by Laurianne Claase was also released and subsequently made into print, and 48 Hours, BBC Three, and ESPN have all aired documentaries on the case. Social media was an integral factor in the case as well, with a live stream analysis of Pistorius’ bail hearing, thousands of Tweets concerning the trial, a Twitter account created by Pistorius’ PR team called @OscarHardTruth, numerous blog postings, and multiple Buzzfeed articles.


There can be no doubt this was a story that caught the attention of much of the western world. But why? What was it about this particular act of violence that was so intriguing to people when it occurred so far away? It could be that Oscar Pistorius himself was an international figure. Known for his exceptional athletic skill, he was a figure people knew enough about that they could become easily invested. Known as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius was the first amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012. His quest to run in the Olympics as an amputee portrayed him as a fighter overcoming the odds—an underdog story if there ever was one, and a mainstay of American media. So perhaps people were drawn to this drama by the rise and fall of what could be considered a hero—Pistorius went from a crippling childhood amputation to become “the fastest man on Earth with no legs.”

The drama of fallen athletes is also a common staple in western media. Lately the airwaves and the Internet have been consumed by the video of Ray Rice assaulting his wife and dragging her unconscious body from the elevator and the consequent indefinite suspension of Rice from the NHL. Adrian Peterson has also made headlines with charges of child-abuse and his dismissal from the Minnesota Vikings. In the past there have been drug issues, the Minnesota Vikings Love Boat scandal, dog fighting, etc. Yes, the story of the fallen athlete is a common one that still seems to surprise us and grab our attention every time.

More savvy consumers of this trial have ventured to guess that Pistorius was just the headline that grabbed attention, but what kept the story going was perhaps issues of race or gender. On September 12, 2014 The New York Times compared the South African public’s interest in the trial to that of Americans in the O. J. Simpson murder trial, reflecting that it this moment showcased “South Africa’s complicated obsession with race, crime and celebrity,” though it could be argued that really the trial showcased a western obsession with race, crime, and celebrity. Others argued that the trial was so captivating because it encouraged public debates about the legal technicalities of the trial and verdict, perhaps best argued by a cartoon published by The Times on September 16, 2014, entitled “Legal Reasoning Behind Oscar Pistorius Verdict.”

While these are reasonable arguments for a national audience, they don’t quite cover the fascination of international viewers. I would argue instead that the trial was a test of democracy for South Africa, one in which the west is very much invested. The story of democratic post-apartheid South Africa is seen by many to be an example to emerging democracies throughout the world, and its Constitution is considered to be the epitome of western liberal ideals, perhaps even more so than the Constitution of the United States of America. South Africa stands as a unique success story in the west’s quest to bring democracy to the world, and a cornerstone of any democracy is the ability of its courts to function in such a way that the people see it as wise and just. The Pistorius case was just such a test, to see if the courts would be ruled by the hate and racism that is one legacy of apartheid, or would the judge be able to make an objective and fair verdict that the people would abide by.

While I am sure many South Africans are as concerned about the outcome of this trial, should South Africa fail this test, there are unique implications for western nations, who have invested so much into the narrative of South Africa as the shining triumph in our vision for world democracy. Under Woodrow Wilson the United States adopted a policy of liberal internationalism, which, among other things, is dedicated to encouraging the global emergence of democracy. This call for global democracy was taken up once again at the end of World War II, when President Truman stated, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” Since then the United States and other western nations have embarked on a campaign to bring democracy to the world, a project that has been largely unsuccessful, particularly in Africa (though I could easily cite our most recent failed efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq). In light of these democratic failures, South Africa is a desperately needed victory, one that allows us to continue our push for democracy. It is this critical need for South Africa to succeed and support our narrative that has created a level of investment that I believe draws our collective attention at critical junctures in South Africa’s democracy.

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