On Monday Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt, the artistic and romantic partners who make up the electro band Yacht, claimed that a sex tape they had made had been stolen and leaked. Across several social media posts—mostly on Facebook—they announced that to take control of the situation, they were going to sell the video for $5.
On the site where sex tape could supposedly be downloaded, they wrote, "Controlling how this video is seen, and who profits from it, is the only form of agency we have left over this exploitative situation." But attempts to download the video led to an error page.
The entire scenario, as some had suspected, was a hoax. As Jezebel's Anna Merlan reported, an email dated April 6 from Evans and Bechtolt to one of Merlan's colleagues at Gawker Media read as follows:
For the upcoming music video for our song, “I Wanna Fuck You Til I’m Dead,” we’re faking a sex tape leak.
In the days leading up to the video’s release, we’re going to pretend we were hacked, share and delete confessional social media posts on the subject of our privacy, then try to “get out in front of it” and sell the sex tape, fake a server crash, etc.
All of that happened, up to and including fake server crash (nobody was actually charged the $5). People probably would have realized early on that it was a hoax, except many of YACHT's famous friends tweeted in support of it. Here's the author and filmmaker Miranda July :
The musician Nick Thorburn's tweet featured a screenshot from the purported video:
Other celebrities who shared it didn't explicitly claim to have seen the tape, such as comedian Kate Berlant, so it's unclear if they were in on the hoax I've reached out to Berlant's management to ask if she knew the tape and leak were a hoax, and will update this post if I hear back.
The stunt on its own is reprehensible. As Merlan points out, it's meant to be at the expense of the online media, but really comes at the expense of the actual victims of revenge porn. It's been an uphill battle for any legal protection against revenge porn, and some victims (often teenaged ones) end their lives.
Yacht has started to face some opprobrium for the hoax, but their friends are also very much to blame. The spread of the hoax, and encouraging people to buy and attempt to download the video, relied on a sort of moral network effect. The video was made more acceptable and valuable by prominent individuals, artists with fans who admire them, saying it was okay to watch. The hoax served to put a validating stamp on the act of sharing revenge porn.
This was an abuse of celebrity and trust. Artists don't have to have journalistic credibility, but you would hope they'd have a moral sensibility. July will return to her art. Thorburn will go back to selling his album. They probably won't have to deal with the consequences of a hoax they helped spread, or the false narratives about revenge porn they've moved forward. It's a terrible stunt in the name of "art."
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org