Yes, “Emma You Are Next” was a hoax; No, everything’s not okay

4chan Hoax

In the wake of giving a very mild speech about feminism and men’s role in it at the United Nations, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson found herself threatened by the 4chan messageboard with a release of nude photos supposedly hacked from her computer. But the countdown clock website at the center of this mess, entitled “Emma You Are Next,” had a surprise for everyone when it hit zero: the whole thing was, apparently, a hoax by a marketing firm called Rantic. Confusion proliferated: was the entire thing made up? Were the comments on 4chan fake? How deep did the rabbit hole go? Who or what was Rantic? Indeed, the website itself seemed to furnish an answer.

As of this writing, it now displays a strongly worded letter to the President Barack Obama, enjoining him and the world at large to “#shutdown4chan,” claiming the “Emma You Are Next” clock was a hoax meant to draw attention to 4chan’s criminal leaks of celebrity nude photos. It’s endorsed by Rantic CEO Brad Cockingham. Yes, really. The letter even says the hacking is a “clear indication that the internet NEEDS to be censored.” Curiouser and curiouser.

In truth, it’s a matryoshka hoax, you might say. Rantic itself isn’t real, and this fake campaign to shut down 4chan is but another attention-grabbing stunt wrapped in the previous one. According to Business Insider:

“Rantic Marketing is a fake company run by a gang of prolific internet spammers used to quickly capitalize on internet trends for page views. The group goes by a variety of different names. Collectively, they’re known as SocialVEVO, but as the Daily Dot reports, their names are alleged to include Jacob Povolotski, Yasha Swag, Swenzy, and Joey B. The only known video footage of the group is a rap song about pickles that they used dubious spam techniques to make incredibly popular.”

And so it goes.

In the wise words of Sean O’Neal at the AV Club, “Everyone on the Internet needs a time out.” But I tend to be the stubborn sort who tries her damndest to pull silver linings from the messiest, trolliest of cyber-vomit clouds, so let’s give it a shot.


One thing that can be taken away from all this is that threats are “real” to their targets even if they turn out to be hoaxes. After all, we can understand that a threat to kill someone can have a terrible psychic impact on the target even if the person making the threats has no intention of making good on them. It is precisely the Schrodingerian quality of not knowing that makes these things so torturous.

Threats of this particular kind—attacking Emma Watson because she gave a feminist speech—also have a terroristic effect on any woman in a similar position. Being threatened for speaking out as a feminist is neither new, nor rare, and events that target a celebrity in this way have the effect of scaring thousands or millions more. They serve as constant reminders to women, in particular, that speaking one’s mind in public is to incur the wrath of mob justice.

The internet makes crowdsourcing such attacks easier than ever; the buy-in for mobbing is lower than it’s been at any point in history, and the threat made against Watson was entirely believable because of how 4chan has been at the center of mass sexist campaigns like GamerGate and the leaking of other celebrity nude phots. The hoax would not have gained traction without the faith and credit ensured by past events.

Being a public figure of any sort, regardless of one’s gender, carries a terrible price these days since we are all made to stand before the flaming open vents of social media as a condition of our work. Men and women alike have noticed that the internet is often a furnace of furious and often hateful personal invective lobbed up at anyone with a platform. But for women and feminists the threshhold for being attacked is much lower; it takes less exposure, less reach, less celebrity to be deemed worthy of hate-mobbing. Sometimes the biggest targets are women few people had ever heard of prior to the harassment campaigns against them. I’ve watched friends who are only well known in very narrow activist circles get struck by waves of directionless harassment that come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

One poster on 4chan’s /pol/ board wrote, according to Jezebel,

“4chan holds Emma in high esteem, and while most of us would fap like crazy to real nudes, it’s not us hacking the cloud.

Thanks for listening. Oh, if by some rare fluke Emma Watson is reading this – many on 4chan respect what you’re doing as a moderate, balanced feminist and we don’t hate you like we hate the SJW’s”

No one person can truly speak for a hivemind, naturally, but it is not hard to find similar sentiments sprinkled across the internet: online denizens setting themselves up as arbiters of who is the right kind of respectable woman and/or feminist, and who is not. The implication, of course, is that for those who do not pass the test all the layers of Hell await. But as I said, no one person can speak for a hivemind, and in a society that holds women to such impossible standards, some group, somewhere will find us wanting, even if others praise us for our supposed moderation.

I myself was praised by some disingenuous people as the “right kind” of feminist because of my stance on what’s been dubbed “toxic activism.” I did indeed break with orthodoxy to challenge shibboleths like the absolute application of “the tone argument” or concepts like “intent isn’t magic,” and some outsiders and even anti-feminists seemed pleased with me for this, though I was certainly not seeking their approval. Perhaps most infamously to some, I even won the approbation of feminist writer Michelle Goldberg, who proceeded to use my words and those of other women of colour to frame an article scapegoating black women on Twitter for the toxicity we had described.

A few months later, however, and I now find myself on the other side of the line again, deemed a “social justice warrior” by angry young men in the gaming community who are currently trying to bully outspoken feminist and queer writers out of the world of video game criticism and journalism. Suddenly I am once again the evil radical who needs to be punished by the merciless will of the mob.

The “high esteem” the anonymous 4channer alludes to is a fleeting thing indeed.

I’ve often called this kind of cyber mobbing “the monster with a thousand faces,” for it does act as a thoughtless mass of Lovecraftian proportions and horrors whose will and reasoning seem nearly inscrutable to the rest of us. It is a constant companion to women online—and our allies as well; men will find themselves beset by similar horrors if they speak up in defence of women, especially those deemed by that 4chan mentality to not be worthy of “high esteem.” Disapproval does not earn you disagreement; instead, it yearns for your very destruction.

It is what made the “Emma You Are Next” countdown so believable. Meanwhile, petty abuse from that thousand-faced monster carries on against many people you have never heard of, with no headlines to mark its occurrence. This specific countdown was a hoax; the culture that created it is all too real.

Katherine CrossKatherine Cross is no one’s pet feminist.

Katherine Cross is sociologist and Ph.D student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City specialising in research on online harassment and gender in virtual worlds. She is also a sometime video game critic and freelance writer, in addition to being active in the reproductive justice movement. She loves opera and pizza.

Sociologist and Unofficial Nerd Correspondent.

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