'Internet prank' sex video claims a celebrity victim

The mini-explosion that hit the Internet following the alleged circulation of a sex video starring Meg White, member of the band, The White Stripes was an echo of a previous incident that involved a well-known Hilton family member.

Only this time, the video was not authentic. Instead, the video featured someone who looked very similar to White. This led to spokespeople from the White Stripe's record label to say, "We as a label believe some people have a very twisted sense of humour and this prank is in particularly bad taste."

Despite the dubious nature of the video, the damage it has caused has been fast and far reaching. Numerous performances by The White Stripes have been cancelled on account of White suffering from 'anxiety'. Many forum posts and blogs have surfaced, ranging from debates over the legitimacy of the video to attacks on White's character and integrity as an artist.

While the video may have been started by pranksters, David Vaile, executive director of Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the UNSW, is concerned for the well-being of White. "In this case the damage to her reputation is secondary to the primary problem of the anxiety caused by the incident," he said.

According to Vaile, it's not just the actual video that could be causing White's anxiety - "there are allegations in blogs that she posted the video herself for publicity".

This is another, separate case of defamation against White in this incident. One that Vaile believes highlights a potentially traumatic 'flame' or e-bully culture that does more damage to a person emotionally than the harm to their reputation.

For Vaile, this case highlights a growing problem in the growing popularity of social networking on the Internet.

"It's social networking without thinking about the impact. People are posting things without thinking about the effect it will have in such a powerful and uncontrolled publishing tool like the Internet," he said.

It's not just celebrities who are regularly affected by the defamatory powers of the Internet, either.

"It's a form of e-bulling, really," Vaile said. "This isn't a celebrity issue, the involvement of the celebrity brings it to public light, but this is a privacy issue." "It could happen to anybody, and it has the capacity to inflict serious emotional harm."

While there are precedents for people being sued for online defamation, Vaile says it is often impossible to stop everyone involved.

"Unless there's a very active and prohibitively expensive effort made to complain about every place where the video is reproduced, and every blog post made, there's a chance that the nastiness of what is done will stick."

In Vaile's opinion, digital reproductions of videos and images and blog commentary can spread rapidly across the Internet, and it is unpredictable how people will react to what they see and read. If something is quickly dismissed as fraudulent, the wider Internet community may laugh it off. However, if the legitimacy remains dubious, and critical commentary becomes too widespread and vocal, the damage to a person's emotions and reputation could be irreparable.

"It's like giving a child a gun," Vaile said. "They might just shoot the corner of a brick off a wall, or they might fire it into a crowd of people."

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Matthew Sainsbury
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