There’s a new trend going around at the moment: leaking celebrity’s (sometimes weird) online dating behaviour. First we had a video Ben Affleck sent a woman after she unmatched him on celeb dating app Raya, and then we had a TikTok go viral that shows Friends star Matthew Perry chatting online with a woman who turned out to be 19 years old. Did it leave you feeling a bit ick? Because it did for me, and I reckon it’s worth talking about.
I think it’s important to acknowledge straight up that PEDESTRIAN.TV has covered both of these stories, and I’m not blanket saying that getting these videos out there is bad, per se. It’s just left me wondering where we draw the line at knowing everything about a celeb’s private life, and what circumstances allow that line to move.
Take Ben Affleck, for example. Nobody asked him to track down a woman who unmatched him, send her a video, and also make that video the most cringeworthy yet on-brand thing for Ben Affleck to do. (I would expect nothing less from the man photographed dumping a cardboard cut out of ex-girlfriend Ama de Armas the day after they reportedly split.)
You can also argue that the woman who posted the Ben Affleck video had no idea it was going to go viral. There’s an internet phenomenon where we attribute a greater importance to a post once it’s been seen by millions of people, even if the original poster was just making a dumb joke to their much smaller audience. Virality flattens and destroys any context the original post once had. Oh, you were making a silly joke about Chrissy Teigen to your 30 followers? Sorry, she’s seen the joke and now you have 10,000 angry Chrissy Teigen fans swarming in your mentions.
The Matthew Perry video hit different to the Ben Affleck one. He was filmed, without his knowledge, FaceTiming a woman he’d matched with online, an experience that would make me shrivel up and die. Adding another layer of complexity is that the woman said she was “inspired” by the Ben Affleck video. She was aware of how far the TikTok could (and did) go, making her more complicit in its reach.
Now let’s add another layer on top of that. The woman who filmed Matthew Perry gave an interview to Page Six, throwing some fairly unverified light on the whole thing. Kate Haralson told the publication she was 19-years-old when she matched with Perry, and claimed the Friends star – who is 51 – suggested FaceTiming and playing a game of 20 Questions almost immediately. Haralson said that while none of Perry’s questions were sexual, she did get “uncomfortable” when he asked jokingly if he was as old as her dad.
“A lot of people were saying I’m a bully and mean for posting this, and it made me feel kind of bad, but at the same time, I feel like a lot of guys in Hollywood are talking to all these young girls and it’s something that I think a lot of people should be aware of,” Haralson told Page Six.
The implication here is that Haralson was in the right for posting her video, to ‘expose predatory men in Hollywood’. But was Perry being predatory? Maybe, maybe not. We have no idea. The TikTok didn’t provide context, nor did the interview – and that’s kind of where the problem lies. I guess you can judge Perry for putting his Raya age settings as low as 19 years old, but by that same token, he wouldn’t be matched with anyone who didn’t have their settings as high as 51 years old. (Haralson told Page Six she’d only put her age that high so her mum could see the older celebs on the app.) It’s fundamentally not the same thing as a 51-year-old hitting on a 19-year-old at a bar – or worse, on his daughter’s friends.
There’s also the broader question of what level of privacy do we owe celebs, anyway? Celebrity gossip exploded in popularity in 2020, in part thanks to Instagram accounts like Deuxmoi, and in part because we were all bored at home, running out of content to consume.
Some of the stories are delightfully mundane – “I sat next to Kate Hudson on a plane and she was lovely”, “Mary-Kate Olsen came into my Starbucks but didn’t smile” – and hold such low stakes that they don’t require any further thought.
Others are reputation-ruining. After a TikTok ‘exposed’ Hailey Bieber as having a “bad attitude” to wait staff, the celebrity apologised. “I’m a human and I made a mistake and I acted a way that was out of character for me,” Bieber said a few months later. “I acted a way that I don’t want to be. I’m trying to do better every single day.”
So where do we draw the line? Is it up to us, or the celebs themselves?
“I think that when you are on ANY type of app you should assume any communication is not going to remain private,” Deuxmoi told P.TV via Instagram DM.
“There are whole IG accounts dedicated to calling guys out who act ridiculous on dating apps so why should a celeb be treated differently. Specifically with Matthew Perry and Ben Affleck, what did they expect? They are on a dating app talking to women 20+ years younger than them. That generation operates very differently… calling out celebs on TikTok is a trend they all participate in. If they wanted to remain discreet they should have taken that into consideration before they swiped right.”
I guess I don’t really have an answer here. There’s no hard and fast line; it’s smudged and warped by context and whatever mood we’re all in that day. But I guess my one conclusion is that I’m not totally on board with this trend of leaking private videos, no matter how mundane or who the person is. I hope it dies, and sooner rather than later.
Alex Bruce-Smith is the deputy editor of PEDESTRIAN.TV, meaning she splits her time between wrangling the editorial staff, writing piping hot content, and commissioning the best young writers in Australia. She tweets too much here, but she’s more basic on Instagram.