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The threats against Emma Watson weren't "just a hoax"

New information has emerged about the threatening website targeting actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.

After Watson gave a moving, powerful speech at the UN about feminism, anonymous individuals set up a website targeting her with sexual threats, counting down the five days until, we were meant to presume, her private nude images would be made public. Now, it seems that no photos will be released and that the site was created by shady online spammers, not users of 4chan (the site where nude photos stolen from celebrities were posted earlier this month, and whose logo was featured on the site threatening Watson). This revelation has caused some to dismiss the threatening site as just a hoax. But it is so much more than that.

Today, visitors to the site threatening Watson saw it redirect to a page on which "Rantic marketing" claims to have created the site after being hired by "celebrity publicists" to shut down 4chan. It appears, though, that Rantic is a fake company and that the threat site was actually the work of a group which sometimes calls itself "SocialVevo" or "Swenzy."

As the Daily Dot reported last year, that group has created other fake countdown sites. One purported to be NASA counting down to "the biggest discovery that will shake the earth," another promised an announcement about Brian, the dog on the sitcom Family Guy, and another promised a big announcement about Facebook. Their motivation appears to be financial — the group has used the false sites to drive viewers to their videos, increasing ad rates, and also sells social media attention.

If it's true that the group is behind the Watson countdown site and that it was all about money, this is still an appalling attack, not "just a hoax." These people knew that Watson was vulnerable to sexual threats and violence because she is in the public eye, and they chose to exploit that vulnerability for their own ends. That would be an awful thing to do to any woman, but it was particularly insidious in this case, because whoever made the site was capitalizing on the existing misogynist backlash to Watson's speech.

Threats still cause fear, pain, and harm, even if they ultimately prove to be empty. That's not "just" anything — it's an attack, and it's still very, very wrong.