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Response to Watson’s UN speech reveals ongoing problem of gender in the media

Emma Watson’s powerful speech before the United Nations this week launched a new campaign against gender inequality that has received worldwide news coverage and continues to trend on social media.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | September 25, 2014

Journalists and global citizens alike have praised the actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador for her moving speech. The response to her speech in the traditional and social media sphere has generated a whole lot of coverage in and of itself which indicates the ongoing problem of how the media tackles gender issues.

Death threats and a suicide hoax are all being circulating in the twittersphere, purportedly as punishment for her passionate thoughts on feminism. This response reflects a pressing issue in which gender issues in the press stretch beyond the printed page, thanks to the power of social media.

Initially, there was also the threat of a nude photo leak, allegedly driven by members of 4chan, an imageboard website. The site has recently been involved in the leaking of several celebrity nudes, the most notable being that of Jennifer Lawrence.

The day after Watson’s speech, a site sprung up featuring a photoshopped image of Watson with a tear on her face, a mysterious countdown timer and the phrase “never forget, the biggest to come so far.”

Online commentary from 4chan members explicitly stating the photos will become public, the sudden creation of the website since the speech and 4chan’s recent history of leaking nude photos of the celebrity strongly indicated its likelihood.

4chan users, however, were quick to deny their involvement in the site. Stating as much in their comment thread.

4chan comment4chan comment

Earlier this week it was revealed that the site was actually created by a marketing company, Rantic, acting on behalf of celebrities and their managers in a bid to close down 4chan. The site now bears a letter to Barack Obama asking him to shut 4chan down as well as a plea for members of the public to sign a petition.

Today, consumers and journalists alike are still unsure as to who actually runs and operates the site, and there is a new theory, which suggests that Rantic is also a hoax and is being used to promulgate the other hoaxes. James Balla special projects editor for The Guardian expressed his concern for how such Internet stunts effect journalistic integrity and news culture in an article for The Guardian yesterday.

“No one is quite sure exactly what transpired, but broadly speaking it shouldn’t matter…there is a broader problem at stake here: the global news agenda is now regularly held hostage by small bands of loud but tech-savvy idiots.”

Ball expresses his dismay that major news stories, such as updates on the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and America’s impending involvement in the ISIS conflict, were overshadowed by a story that ended up amounting to a confusing series of hoaxes.

This incident reflects the growing issue of mixing news and social media; the inability for news consumers to distinguish content and marketing. The fact that anyone can post anything on social media and networking sites has allowed for the integrity of news stories to be challenged.

Ultimately, this incident is a hugely disappointing display of social media gone wrong, in which an incredible speech promoting gender equality has been turned into a publicity stunt at best and a misogynistic display at worst.

Whilst the coverage undoubtedly gave Watson’s inspiring speech even more publicity than it would’ve originally created, it changed the nature of the conversation, turning it away from the more important issues Watson addressed.