The term “Fappening” is a portmanteau of two words: the onomatopoeic internet term “fap,” which is used to refer to masturbation, and “happening.” This term emerged in the wake of a major internet event that took place in August 2014, when a large number of private, often explicit, pictures of celebrities were leaked online.
This event started when an unknown hacker, or possibly a group of hackers, managed to breach the security of Apple’s iCloud service. The hacker(s) targeted the accounts of numerous celebrities, stealing personal photos and videos. The stolen material was then posted on the /b/ board of the image-based bulletin board 4chan, from where it rapidly spread to various other internet sites, including Reddit and Tumblr.
The images mostly featured female celebrities and included both explicit and non-explicit personal photos. Some of the celebrities targeted in the leak included Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, and many others. Many of the photos were of an explicit nature, leading to widespread criticism of the leak as a gross violation of privacy and a form of sexual exploitation.
While the term “Fappening” was used by some communities to describe the event, it was widely criticized as being trivializing and insensitive given the serious nature of the privacy violation involved. Many commentators, as well as the victims themselves, preferred to describe the event as a “sex crime” or “sexual violation.”
In response to the leak, various internet platforms took steps to remove the images. Reddit, in particular, faced criticism for its initial handling of the situation, but later made efforts to remove the images and shut down related subreddits. Meanwhile, Apple announced that it had fixed the security vulnerability that had allowed the breach to occur, although the company also faced criticism for its alleged slow response to the breach.
Legal consequences ensued for the hacker involved. In 2016, a man named Ryan Collins from Pennsylvania was charged in relation to the leak. He pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, admitting to a phishing scheme that gave him illegal access to more than 100 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts. Collins was later sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
In addition to the legal consequences, the event sparked widespread discussion about internet privacy, the security of cloud services, and the culture of victim-blaming that often surrounds incidents of this nature.