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James Franco Lawyers Call His #MeToo Accusers “Attention Hungry”

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  • James Franco’s lawyers filed a demurrer in response to a lawsuit that accuses Franco of sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior.
  • His lawyers accused the women who filed the suit, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Tina Gaal, of taking advantage of the #MeToo movement by falsely bringing down Franco, who they maintain is innocent.
  • They called the Tither-Kaplan and Gaal “attention-hungry” and said they were jumping on the bandwagon to “ruin the next celebrity.”
  • Tither-Kaplan and Gaal’s lawyer said that Franco’s new effort to play the victim is a “tactic commonly used by perpetrators of wrong-doing” that makes it harder for women to bring accusations forward.

Lawyers File Demurrer

James Franco’s lawyers are alleging that the two women accusing him of sexually exploitative behavior in a lawsuit are taking advantage of the MeToo movement in hopes of seeking public attention.

His lawyers filed a demurrer on Friday, which was obtained and shared by Variety Monday. They claimed that while Franco himself is a supporter of the MeToo and Times Up movements, these accusations are false and without legal grounds. 

“The #MeToo and Times Up movements have made tremendous and important contributions to improving not only the culture of the entertainment but also the world as a whole,” the demurrer said. “Unfortunately, while these movements have rightly brought down a number of reprehensible individuals, they have also ensnared an innocent man, James Franco.”

The lawyers continued to say that allegations against Franco “made great tabloid fodder, but like most tabloid stories, they are false and inflammatory.” They believe their purpose was to grab “as much publicity as possible for the attention-hungry plaintiffs.”

What Was in the Lawsuit?

The plaintiffs, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Tina Gaal, filed a suit back in October saying that when Franco ran a film an acting school called Studio 4 between the years of 2014 and 2017, he engaged in sexually exploitative behavior with students. One of the advantages Franco touted about his classes was that students would have chances to get roles in his upcoming projects.

They claimed that he, along with two other men involved with the school who are also listed as defendants in the suit, “opted to sexualize their power and fame by dangling the opportunity to aspiring actors of employment in film and television in exchange for explicit nudity, sex, and as Franco put it, the ‘pushing of boundaires.”

They claimed that the school was fraudulent and that opportunities for women increased if the women agreed to “overt sexual acts” or scenes involving nudity and sex. The lawsuit said that Franco was “looking to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.”

Franco has maintained his innocence since allegations first arose against him. His lawyers further defended him in their demurrer. They claimed that prior to this lawsuit, Tither-Kaplan had spoken words of praise for Franco and the school. The document accused her of jumping on the bandwagon to “ruin the next celebrity.” It also said that Gaal’s complaints were “personal grievances” that had no place in a lawsuit.

A lawyer for Tither-Kaplan and Gaal, James Vagnini, gave a statement to USA Today suggesting that this action only furthered Franco’s guilt. He said that in filing this demurrer, Franco was putting forth an “aggressive effort to position himself as the victim and smear the reputation of the survivors who have come forward is, unfortunately, a tactic commonly used by perpetrators of wrong-doing.”

“It is one of the many reasons that so many survivors are still afraid to speak publicly about their experiences,” Vagnini added.

Background on Allegations

Major allegations against Franco involving his acting classes were first brought forward in a Los Angeles Times report in 2018. Five women spoke to the outlet, each alleging their own experiences with Franco that were inappropriate. 

Tither-Kaplan was one of the women who said she was chosen to appear in one of Franco’s projects. She said she was asked to do a “bonus” scene that would involve her and other actresses simulating an orgy with Franco. She claimed that during this scene, Franco removed the protective plastic vaginal guard the actresses had on and simulated oral sex without protection. His lawyers claim this is false. 

Several actresses said that either in class or in his personal projects, Franco would ask women to take their tops off. In some instances, they said he was angry if they refused. They also said that when roles were actually offered to people in the class, they were either small extra parts or scenes that required nudity. 

Katie Ryan, another actress that spoke to the Times, said that Franco would “always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts.”

Franco has consistently denied wrongdoing but has still encouraged women to speak up. In a Seth Meyers appearance in 2018, he said that the accusations he had seen so far were not accurate, but he still supported their right to speak out. 

“One of the things that I’ve learned is that this is a conversation that needs to be had. There are people and women and others that have not been a part of this conversation,” he told Meyers. “So I support them” 

“If I have done something wrong. I will fix it — I have to,” he said in a separate 2018 statement.

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Variety) (Vanity Fair)

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Harry Styles Releases T-Shirts to Support Coronavirus Relief Efforts. Here’s Why Some Fans Are Concerned

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  • Harry Styles is selling $26 dollar T-shirts that encourage social distancing, with 100% of the profits going to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
  • Many argue that encouraging people to donate directly or doing so himself would be a better move, rather than losing some of that money to cover production expenses. 
  • Others took issue with him asking people to buy unnecessary items when so many are financially struggling and worried about those who now have to manufacture and deliver the shirts.
  • But fans say this strategy gets people to donate who otherwise wouldn’t have since they’ll receive something in return. 

Harry Announces “Stay Home. Stay Safe,” Merch 

Singer Harry Styles revealed Tuesday that he was selling t-shirts to help raise funds for those fighting the coronavirus, but his plan was quickly met with some pushback online.

For $26, fans can get a white tee with a black slogan printed on the front and back. The front reads,“’Stay home. Stay safe. Protect each other,’ while the back reads,“’This T-shirt fights COVID-19 treat people with kindness.’

According to the official website where you can pre-order the item, 100% of profits will be donated to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, powered by the UN Foundation.

“In times like these, it is more important than ever to remember the power of people,” Styles said in a statement to fans. “If you are able to help, please donate where you can. Stay home, self-isolate, and protect each other.” 

People Raise Concerns 

While many were excited about the news and rushing to order their shirts, others raised several concerns. 

Some argued that encouraging people to donate directly or doing so himself would be a better move, rather than losing some of that money to cover production expenses. Many were also concerned about those who would now have to make and deliver the shirts.

“Quick reminder that 100% of the profits does not = 100% of the cost,” a Twitter user wrote. “ It is more effective for you to donate directly to the charity. You do not need this merch. You do not need to be encouraging factory workers being comissioned to make this.”

“How is making these t shirts safe? what about all the people making these and dispatching them? they’re clearly not ‘staying home’ and ‘staying safe,”’ one user asked, while another wrote, “Don’t people have to go out to work to manufacture these shirts? Isn’t that really contradictory?” 

Others took issue with Styles asking people to buy unnecessary products when so many have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay their bills. 

Fans Defend Harry 

But others hit back at the concerns and pointed out that the shirts are not expected to ship until 4-6 weeks after receiving a purchase confirmation, which might signal that manufacturers are holding off on production or slowing it down to ensure safety. However, no information about those details have actually been confirmed or explained. 

Others supported the strategy, arguing that some people who would not have donated before might do so now because they’ll get something in return. 

The backlash is not completely unexpected since Rita Ora faced similar criticism last month after releasing her own merchandise to raise funds for the same organization.

But this move is also not surprising coming from Styles. Earlier this year, he launched the Treat People With Kindness (TPWK) movement and created a range of merchandise with profits distributed to local charities around the world.

Despite some criticism, most people online generally believe that the intentions behind these merch releases are good and are ultimately benefiting an important cause. 

See what others are saying: (PopBuzz) (Forbes) (Independent

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Houseparty Denies Viral Hacking Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty for Proof of Smear Campaign

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  • Users of the group video chat service Houseparty have complained that their online accounts like Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and even bank accounts were hacked after downloading the app. 
  • Houseparty said it found no evidence to suggest a link between its app and the hacking of unrelated accounts. 
  • The app also believes the rumors are part of a “commercial smear campaign” against it and are offering a $1 million dollar bounty for evidence that proves this. 
  • Forbes enlisted a cybersecurity expert who found no obvious dangers with the app, but damage to Houseparty’s reputation may have already been done as people continue to urge others to delete it.

Hacking Accusations Surface 

Houseparty is now the latest group video-chatting app to come under fire over privacy concerns, but the app is fighting back, aggressively denying recent data breach rumors. 

People forced indoors all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic have been turning to video-chatting apps over the last few weeks, not only for school and business meetings but also for virtual gatherings with friends and family. 

With apps like Zoom facing increased criticism over data sharing policies, meeting crashers, and other issues, many have instead opted to download its “fun” competitor, Houseparty, which features in-app group games like Heads Up!, QuickDraw!, and Trivia. 

But over the last few days, Houseparty users have been complaining on social media that their non-related accounts were compromised, including Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and online-banking accounts, among others.

Many have suggested that the Epic Games owned app is in some way the reason for this.

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Houseparty Denies Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty

On Monday, an Epic Games spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts.” 

“As a general rule, we suggest all users choose strong passwords when creating online accounts on any platform,” it added. 

The company also took to Twitter to assure users that its “service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites.”

Later that same evening, the app launched more aggressive measures to shut down the hacking rumors, saying, “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”

The company even said it was offering a $1 million dollar bounty “for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign.”  

Is Houseparty Safe? 

So is the app actually safe to use? Well, no app can be guaranteed 100% secure, but it seems like as of now, there are no dangerous flaws that have been found. Forbes released a report examining the app and enlisted cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko to take a look at the Android version of it. Stefanko ultimately determined that there was nothing of concern. 

“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko said. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

From a privacy perspective, the Forbes report said there is one obvious issue that some might want to note before downloading. That is that the app’s games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. 

So essentially if you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your game. However, the report noted that there is an easy fix for this issue: simply hitting the padlock button at the bottom of the screen.

As far as its privacy policy, the report again said there was nothing outrageous there as well. They did say that the most concerning language in the policy says that the app can collect “anonymized and aggregated information, such as de-identified demographic information” and “de-identified location information.” The issue here is that even when location data is “de-identified,” it’s still possible to find out who the person is by linking it with other information.  

And while the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises that it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”

Forbes noted that there is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising and if you’re concerned enough about that, they provided specific steps you can take to boost privacy and still use the app. 

Thomas Brewster, the Security, surveillance and privacy reporter who wrote the Forbes report, later tweeted that he had reached out to a few different researchers for their opinion. They too had not found any notable security issues with Houseparty.

So as of now, it seems like the app is fine to use, but some don’t seem too convinced. The damage to Houseparty’s reputation may already be done as social media users continue to urge one another to delete the app altogether. However, we’ll all have to wait and see if Houseparty’s interesting efforts to debunk the rumor pay off in the future. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Engadget) (BBC)

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Taylor Swift Uses Leaked Kanye Call to Raise Money for Coronavirus Relief Efforts

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  • Over the weekend, the full-length footage of the phone call between Taylor Swift and Kanye West about his song “Famous” emerged online. 
  • The call seemed to back up Swift’s original story that she didn’t know West would call her a “bitch” in the song, years after Kim Kardashian released snippets of the footage that seemed to indicate otherwise.
  • Both Swift and Kardashian acknowledged the drama and the larger crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Some were critical of Kardashian for seeming to focus more on the drama and only offering to donate 20% of her profits to emergency response efforts, while Swift quickly directed followers to donation pages unrelated to her.

Background of Taylor-Kim-Kanye Feud

Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, odds are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the drama between Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian West, and her husband, Kanye West.

But just for good measure, here’s the gist of it:

It all started in 2009, when pop star Taylor Swift accepted an award for “best video by a female artist” at the MTV Video Music Awards. She was interrupted by Kanye West coming on stage, saying the infamous four words, “Im’a let you finish,” before proceeding to imply, in front of the crowd and on television, that Beyonce Knowles should have won the award instead. The moment stunned Swift and many of her fans. 

Then, in 2016, West dropped his song “Famous,” referencing the incident and Swift directly by name. 

“For all my southside n***** that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” West raps in the hit.

According to a report from TMZ, Kanye said that Swift had approved the song before it was released. Swift denied this through a publicist. 

“Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” Swift’s representative Tree Paine told The New York Times. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message.” 

“Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous,’” Tree Paine added.

Meanwhile, West maintained that he received Swift’s approval. Months later, the feud got worse when Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian West released bits of the phone call between the two musicians, defending her husband and claiming Swift actually did okay the song. 

This resulted in a lot of backlash for Swift, with many slamming her and accusing her of lying, and Swift said in her recent documentary “Miss Americana” that the whole affair made her want to “disappear.”

Stars Acknowledge Developments, Point to Coronavirus

Over the weekend, the full-length, 25-minute phone call between West and Swift from years ago was somehow leaked and made its rounds on social media, appearing to back up Swift’s claim that she didn’t know about the line referring to her as a “bitch.” 

There’s actually one part of the call where Swift is relieved he didn’t use that word, saying “I thought it was going to be like, ‘That stupid, dumb bitch.’ But it’s not.”

From listening to Kim’s snippets of the call released in 2016 alone, it was not known whether the pair of musicians talked about the use of the word “bitch.” 

The hashtags #KimKardashianIsOver Party and #KanyeWestIsOverParty were trending over the weekend, imitating the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag that populated in 2016 after Kardashian leaked snippets of the call. After several days of online reactions, both Swift and Kardashian finally spoke out about it. 

Swift posted to her Instagram story Monday night, acknowledging the leaked footage and how the controversy has negatively impacted her over the years. However, Swift quickly pointed attention to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that seems to be mentioned in nearly every other headline.

“Instead of answering those who are asking how I feel about video footage that was leaked, proving that I was telling the truth the whole time about *that call* (you know, the one that was illegally recorded, that somebody edited and manipulated in order to frame me and put me, my family, and fans through hell for 4 years),” Swift wrote. “Swipe up to see what really matters.

Credit: Taylor Swift Instagram

Upon swiping up, viewers could access a donation page for Feeding America, a non-profit organization devoted to providing food to those in need. Swift also pushed her followers to donate to the World Health Organization. 

“If you have the ability to, please join me in donating during this crisis,” Swift wrote.

Several hours later, Kardashian West posted her take on the matter with a much longer message. She wrote across her Instagram stories and Twitter page, also referencing the coronavirus outbreak.

“Taylor Swift has chosen to reignite an old exchange – that at this point in time feels very self-serving given the suffering millions of real victims are facing right now,” Kardashian West wrote. 

Kim went on to continue her defense of herself and her husband. 

“To be clear, the only issue I ever had around the situation was that Taylor lied through her publicist who stated that “Kanye never called to ask for permission…” They clearly spoke so I let you all see that. Nobody ever denied the word ‘bitch’ was used without her permission,” Kardashian West wrote.

Kim also addressed accusations made against her of altering the story by only releasing bits of the footage in 2016.

“I never edited the footage (another lie) – I only posted a few clips on Snapchat to make my point and the full video that recently leaked doesn’t change the narrative,” Kardashian West wrote.

Internet Users React

Many took to social media to praise Swift for the way she handled the most recent development in the feud by trying to point it away from herself and onto the more serious matter of the coronavirus.

Some Twitter users argued that while Kardashian West tried to do the same, she missed the mark.

Others also compared Taylor’s urging of donations with no monetary gain for herself, while criticizing Kim for only donating 20% of her SKIMS profits to a COVID-19 emergency response program.

And some criticized Kim for equating Swift’s documentary, “Miss Americana,” and the questionably-legal phone call that Kanye recorded as documentations of musical journey and process.

Ultimately though, even though some good may come of it as people are urged by famous voices to contribute to a good cause, it appeared some users were just plain tired of hearing about the rehashed drama in general. 

“In 2020, we can’t escape the coronavirus and we also can’t escape Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s tiring feud,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Variety)

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