Jeff Bezos annihilated the National Enquirer's bid to blackmail him, using a playbook perfected by pop stars, Kim Kardashian, and ordinary women

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  • Jeff Bezos accused the National Enquirer's parent company of trying to extort him with intimate photographs.
  • Rather than deal on their terms, Bezos went public about the compromising images, and rejected any deal with them.
  • Plenty of other people - though none so rich - have been caught in the exact same dynamic.
  • The singer Sia, Kim Kardashian, and ordinary people have all responded to attempts to shame them by refusing to be ashamed.

Jeff Bezos went public on Thursday evening with the latest development of his extraordinary feud with the publishers of the National Enquirer, the magazine which revealed his affair and, arguably, expedited his divorce.

In an excoriating blog post on Medium, Bezos published emails from lawyers on behalf of the Enquirer, threatening to publish a series of embarrassing photos unless he did as they asked.

He is being praised almost universally for taking a stand against a morally bankrupt strategy, which he framed as a perversion of the journalism he champions by his ownership of The Washington Post.

But his strategy for getting ahead of blackmail from explicit pictures is by no means new, and has been perfected over years - mostly by women.

SiaGetty Images / Andrew H. Walker

Actresses, social media stars, and, indeed, ordinary people have also been threatened with leaks of explicit photos of themselves, and took a similar decision to beat their extorters by going public.

In 2017, the pop star Sia became aware of somebody trying to demean her with a naked photo, offering it for sale to her fans.

In response, she published it herself on Twitter, with the words "save your money, here it is for free." The response was overwhelmingly supportive.

A few months later Ninel Conde, a Mexican telenovela actress with a huge following, did the same thing:

In English, her post says: "Say NO to extortion. I'm exposing before they do, so they can't carry on trying to exploiting images of public figures! There's nothing wrong with a reference image for my nutritionist.

"So I'm posting it here first."

Arguably one of the first examples of this was from one of the world's most-recognised faces: Kim Kardashian.

In 2007, Kardashian was a mid-tier celebrity who appeared often in gossip magazines, but was not a superstar. Also in 2007, a years-old sex tape Kardashian made with her then-boyfriend Ray J was published, without her consent.

Kim Kardashian Ray J 2002A 2002 photograph showing Kim Kardashian with her then-boyfriend, the rapper Ray J.Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

According to "Kim," a 2015 biography by celebrity writer Sean Smith, she considered the tape a "humiliation," and something that could "ruin" her family.

But, ultimately, she struck a deal with the distributors, embraced her actions, got her cut of the profits, and used it as a platform to become one of the most famous women on earth.

Reflecting on the tape in a 2016 blog post, cited by Elle magazine, she said: "I lived through the embarrassment and fear, and decided to say who cares, do better, move on."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kardashian's route was in every way more explicit that taken by Bezos, who has dealt only in words.

But the message remains the same: If you try to use my shame against me, I will refuse to be ashamed.

It is not just celebrities who have done this. Ordinary women, with no access to PR advisers, expensive lawyers, or an already-adoring fanbase also took the intimidating decision to go public about extortion attempts.

Taruna Aswani, an Indian-born woman living in Maryland, received blackmail threats from an anonymous man in 2016. He demanded she send him more explicit material, or else he would publish hacked nude images.

Instead of agreeing, Aswani got ahead of him, writing on her Facebook to friends and family to say that she was a victim of attempt exploitation.

Taruna AswaniA screenshot from a video interview with Taruna Aswani, who was widely praised for her response to an extortion attempt, broadcast by the German news service Deutsche Welle.Deutsche Welle

She said: "I do this so that other women may take a lesson to stand up to bullies … and may get the confidence to stand up as well in case he is known to us and is targeting all of us, but we're either too scared, ashamed or clueless in how to manage or handle such situations."

Jeff Bezos was clearly scared too, though he overcame it.

In his Medium post, he wrote that he took some solace in his enormous resources as the world's richest man, asking: "If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"

When Bezos decided to stand up to the National Enquirer, we don't know whether he had Aswani in his mind, or Sia, or Kim Kardashian.

But, consciously or not, he took the same path that led these women to victory. And, on their shoulders, he won too.

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