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Don't click on celebrity nude photos, ISIS videos

By Sally Kohn, CNN Political Commentator
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn: Don't click on nude photos of celebrities or ISIS videos of beheadings
  • Kohn: When you click on those thing, you're encouraging the hackers and terrorists
  • She says the new stories we click on affect media coverage, which want online traffic
  • Kohn: Consumers have an important power - use it wisely, click responsibly

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- When you click on nude pictures of celebrities or ISIS videos of beheadings, you're part of the problem.

At the very least, you're complicit in the moral crime committed by those who post such pictures or videos. At worst, you're actively perpetuating the incentives behind posting such things in the first place. Want to be a responsible and considerate human being? Then for crying out loud, don't click on those things!

This week hackers released what they say are nude pictures of celebrity women, including Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna and Mary-Kate Olsen. These photos came on the heels of other leaked nude photos, also of celebrity women, which must have gotten enough attention to make the hackers want to do it again.

Opinion: Who's at fault over nude photo hack?

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

A week before, ISIS posted another video claiming to show the beheading of a British aid worker. The video -- mind you, not just its existence but people actually seeing it -- fueled the same sort of revenge mindset in Britain that previous such videos fueled in the United States.

President Obama himself has noted that the videos in which ISIS beheads American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff "resulted in the American public's quickly backing military action." Yesterday, another such video was posted of ISIS supporters in Algeria beheading a French tourist.

Media outlets have struggled with whether to broadcast photos and videos that are on the one hand newsworthy -- and incidentally, salacious and thus, traffic-generating -- but on the other hand may perpetuate the harm or offense committed in the first place. For instance, CNN didn't air the Foley video, opting instead to show only a few images and audio. Some news organizations, however, were less restrained.

Speaking with Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" about the latest ISIS video showing British journalist James Cantlie speaking in captivity, CNN International managing director Tony Maddox said, "We know that ISIS wanted us to show it. And if we're in a situation where ISIS wants us to show anything, we should think really carefully about any way we can avoid doing that."

Internet hacking: Who's to blame?

Let that sink in for a moment: ISIS wants you to watch those videos. The hackers who stole the celebrity pictures want you to look at them. When you click, you're doing precisely what the bad guys want you to do.

Opinion: Will ISIS brutality backfire?

This summer, I gave a TED Talk about the changing landscape of American media and how we the consumers are becoming the new editors. Because online traffic performance drives media in the digital age, our clicks matter more than ever before. I used to think writing essays like this or going on television is a public act of making media, but that browsing the Web at home, clicking on this and that, is a private act of consuming media.

Wrong. Clicking is a public act of making media because it feeds what gets attention. Your clicks matter.

I imagine that most Americans wouldn't buy things they knew had been stolen out of someone else's home. Isn't clicking on stolen photos the same thing? Or worse?

The Guardian's Van Badham writes that clicking on or sharing stolen celebrity nude photos is "an act of sexual violation" that in effect perpetuates the abuse of the theft in the first place. The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern writes that some actively spreading the pictures online feel so entitled to violate these celebrity women's privacy that they imply the celebrities might have leaked the pictures themselves -- as though all the slut-shaming and misogyny would be an enjoyable PR boost.

Opinion: Keep nude photos offline? Here's another idea

Let's be clear, even if you aren't the scuz-bucket making rape jokes in chat rooms, just by curiously clicking on these nude celebrity pictures you're giving the hackers attention and the publishers traffic. You're basically encouraging them to keep doing it.

By the same token, I know most Americans would never want to support or encourage the murderous ISIS extremists. But does public obsession with and outrage around ISIS beheading videos do just that?

Analyzing the political and psychological motives for beheadings, the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby writes, "Clearly the terrorists relish the horror beheading evokes in America and other Western democracies." Beheading Americans naturally provokes that very human reaction.

Still, if we had only heard about Foley and Sotloff being beheaded, would it have generated the same attention and outrage? Or was it the videos, or even just the still images from the videos, that incited and inflamed our anger?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, in 2013, 78% of Americans had heard about the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision, 77% of Americans were aware of the debt ceiling fight in Congress, and 79% of Americans had heard about the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. But fully 94% of Americans were aware that ISIS killed James Foley.

How much is the tail of these deeply vile and upsetting videos wagging the dog of our emotions and prompting us to military action?

In my TED Talk, I said that clicking on a train wreck "just pours gasoline on it and makes it worse." The result? "Our whole culture gets burned." If in our new media-driven universe, what gets the most clicks wins, "we have to shape the world we want with our clicks."

The good news there is that you -- yes you -- have the power as just one individual to decide what we see more of or what we see less of in the media; to discourage disgusting videos and pictures and encourage positive, productive media coverage.

That is an incredible and important power. Use it wisely. Click responsibly.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

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