What is the Fappening? A guide to the nude photo scandal that shook the celebrity world

In 2014, a celebrity iCloud hack hit the headlines that was quickly dubbed “The Fappening”. The leak consisted of hundreds of private, often explicit, images of celebrities and actors – mostly women – and was feverishly shared across websites and social networks such as 4Chan, Reddit and Tumblr.

At the time, it was also known as “Celebgate”, however the crude portmanteau of “fap”, a slang term for masturbation, and “happening”, resulted in the popular online slogan we have today.

The initial leak was slammed by critics as a massive invasion of privacy, and exposed a shocking lack of security protection high-profile figures had on their online accounts. The hackers were able to infiltrate accounts by abusing Apple’s iCloud service, which at the time allowed for unlimited password guesses.

Numerous celebrities were impacted in the leak, the most famous of which included Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Cara Delevingne and Selena Gomez.

As the phenomenon took hold, many outlets rushed to report on the news – often unethically.

Perez Hilton, the US-based gossip distributor, who owns a website, was forced to apologise after publishing a number of the racy pictures to the web. “At work we often have to make quick decisions. I made a really bad one today and then made it worse,” he said at the time.

By September, Reddit was forced to take action due to the quick spread of the images – some of which may have included celebrities who were underage at the time they were taken. The website banned a “Fappening” subreddit and continued to shut down related topics as they appeared.

The same month, the scope of the investigation grew as the FBI got involved. Apple, the US technology giant that manages iCloud, released a statement that said it was “outraged” by the leak.

It stated: “After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the internet.”

At the same time, celebrities continued to highlight the invasiveness of the leak. Lawrence, known for a slew of Hollywood performances, spoke passionately about how it impacted her personally. “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she said.

“It does not mean that it comes with the territory” she continued, adding: “It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. People forget that we’re human.”

The next year, law enforcement started to see results. In June 2015, federal agents stormed a home in Chicago and seized a number of computers. One investigator said at the time one of the computers was used to process “nude and sexually explicit photographs of dozens of female celebrities.”

Another suspect, Edward Majerczyk, was charged witch hacking into iCloud and Gmail accounts of more than 300 people, including celebrities, from November 2013. In March last year, a 36-year-old called Ryan Collins was arrested and pleaded guilty, later sentenced to 18-months in prison.

Fast forward to 2017, and another scandal shows signs of emerging as 26-year-old Emma Watson, star of films including Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast, is rumoured to have been impacted in a fresh series of leaked nude images – speculation her representatives have denied.

“Photos from a clothes fitting Emma had with a stylist a couple of years ago have been stolen. They are not nude photographs. Lawyers have been instructed and we are not commenting further,” Watson’s publicist said in a statement to the media.

Nevertheless, the slogan stuck, with outlets immediately deeming the leak “Fappening 2.0”.