Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna captured the collective attention of many, many people on the Internet Wednesday, when the on-again, off-again couple aired their private grievances in a very public sphere. Not that the pair are new to the private-as-public narrative; their every move has been carefully documented on reality TV and social media – both separately and together – over the past few years.
But Wednesday's blow-out peeled back yet another layer of an already chipped facade, and the couple's volatile exchanges revealed some of the ugliest aspects of their world. What presumably began as a private exchange quickly devolved into a public display of revenge porn on Kardashian's part, and accusations of domestic abuse on Chyna's part, both very real offenses with very real-life consequences.
And online spectators, for the most part, consumed the drama as entertainment.
As of Thursday afternoon, Kardashian's Instagram account has been suspended (or shut down by the Arthur George sock designer, depending upon whose story is to be believed), and Chyna is allegedly seeking legal action against her former fiance (and father of her baby daughter Dream) for posting several nude photos of her without her consent.
While the pair's relationship has been marred with bumps from the start – breakups and makeups, fallouts with the Kardashian family, messy dating histories – there are more than a few reasons why Wednesday's public feuding signals a shift to something even more problematic.
But first, the basics.
On Wednesday, Kardashian launched into a tirade against Chyna on Instagram, starting with a short video clip of the Lashed Bar founder kissing another man while staring into the camera. Kardashian accused his ex of sending the video to him on the Fourth of July to taunt him.
Today Chyna sent me a video after I just bought her 250K of jewelry and she sends me this video... of another man in our bed pic.twitter.com/3rE4luXilJ— ROBERT KARDASHIAN (@robkardashian) July 5, 2017
"What a crazy person. Come spend time with your daughter instead of fucking me and then this dude right after," he captioned the clip. "U need help." From there, Kardashian continued posting images to Instagram, this time NSFW nude photos of Chyna, including images of her butt, genitals and breasts.
"I never been so disrespected in my life," he captioned one explicit picture. "I just bought her 250K of jewelry yesterday. This woman is so disrespectful and I don't care." Other since-deleted posts included commentary on Chyna’s nipple size and weight loss.
After social media users criticized Kardashian for airing the couple's dirty laundry to millions, he again took to Instagram to express his hope that Dream, just seven months, hear about the feud one day. "All u may think my daughter may see this one day and I hope she does cuz this ain't love," he wrote. "I never want my daughter to be raised by a woman like Chyna who cheats and does drugs and alcohol with my baby in the house. Chyna been like this long before me but I chose to love all of her cuz I don't judge."
Domestic abuse enters the equation.
In response to Kardashian's claims of child negligence and infidelity, Chyna then posted a video to Snapchat in which she claimed that he was physically abusive toward her. "Rob u did all this but u beat me up and try to act [like] it never happen !!!!!" the model said in the since-deleted post. "U put hand on me I swear on god !!!!! On my kids but I'm supposed to be quiet because you're a Kardashian."
Chyna later shared and deleted a second Snapchat video in which she said, "The truth will come to the light."
Her claims are serious, and are not without precedent. In December 2016, after a hacker leaked conversations between Chyna and several men, including Jaden Smith and Young Thug, she took to Instagram to address the rumors that she’d had affairs with other men, noting in part that she was "verbally abused every other day," presumably by Kardashian.
The images that Kardashian posted are considered revenge porn, which is illegal in two-thirds of U.S. states, including California.
Kardashian's decision to post several intimate photos of his ex-fiancée was more than just poor taste; it was also illegal. According to celebrity attorney Lisa Bloom, revenge porn is about "an assertion of control and dominance" and is often done "in the way that we always humiliate women: about their bodies."
A 2014 headline-making incident, in which hundreds of private celebrity photos were distributed onto 4chan and spread across other social networks, prompted stricter revenge porn laws and penalties; it is now considered a criminal offense that can result in up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
According to TMZ, Chyna's lawyer, Walter Mosley, has revealed that he and his client will seek legal action in response to Kardashian's since-deleted posts. "I am exploring all legal remedies and protections available to my client at this time in attempts to best advise her on how she may want to proceed," he said. One catch: Chyna allegedly liked the Instagram photos herself before they were taken down, which may invalidate any claims of sustained "emotional distress" from the nude photos, as required by California law.
Kardashian's comments and his decision to post nude images of Chyna essentially constituted slut-shaming – and social media users egged him on.
Kardashian's profanity-laced rant claimed, among many other things, that Chyna had not only cheated on him, but slept with multiple people and was even paid to have a threesome with rapper T.I. and his ex, Tiny. At one point in his posts, Kardashian referred to Chyna as "someone everyone fucks including me … She's everybody's and it's been that way."
And other celebrities who weighed in on the public debacle reinforced the slut shaming, whether intentionally or not. Snoop Dogg, who posted a video to Instagram and Twitter (that was later shared thousands of times), admonished Kardashian for falling for Chyna.
"He knew what he was getting into when he got her … She is what she is, she was what she was," the rapper said.
Chyna is a former stripper who has spoken about defying the negative connotations associated with that label in the past. In a post to Facebook Wednesday, she wrote a lengthy response to her ex's slut-shaming. "All my life I've been called out of my name," she wrote. "I've been called a Hoe, slut, bitch, Gold digger, whore, stripper, you name it. Ever since I was a teenager, I had to go out and get it on my own and provide for my family. I was once told I would never be shit & now look at me. Every time I have something going for myself, people always try to find a way to tear me down."
Kardashian rehashed the couple's complicated relationship history during his rant – a reminder of the fraught links between various members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan.
At one point, Kardashian referenced his younger half-sister, Kylie Jenner, and her ex-boyfriend Tyga, who also happens to be Chyna's ex and baby daddy. (Tyga and Chyna share 4-year-old son King Cairo.) "Chyna did this out of spite not love cuz she mad my little sister took her baby daddy," he wrote.
Jenner's relationship with Tyga, which ended for good earlier this year, was similarly drama-filled. It began on dubious terms, after Tyga apparently left Chyna (once a close friend of Rob's older sister, Kim Kardashian) in 2014 for Jenner, who was just 17 at the time. The couple kept things under wraps until Jenner was of legal age, but Tyga has hinted that the pair was dating while she was underage in his raunchy, thinly-veiled song "Stimulated."
"I'm stimulated," the lyrics read. "They say she young, I should've waited /She a big girl, dog when she stimulated." If Tyga and Jenner did indeed have sexual intercourse prior to her turning 18, then that constitutes statutory rape. Tyga has never faced any charges related to this, and the Kardashian-Jenner clan has turned a blind eye to the rumors.
The incidents are further complicated by Kardashian's serious struggle with depression.
Kardashian has always been camera-shy when compared to his five sisters, who, in addition to starring on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, have built a massive following on social media by documenting their every move online. He became particularly withdrawn in 2014 and 2015 – bailing last-minute on his sister's wedding to Kanye West in May 2014 as he struggled with his weight and self-esteem. (He was diagnosed with diabetes in late 2015.) On Keeping Up, his mother Kris Jenner and other relatives have shared their ongoing concerns about his mental health and emotional well-being.
In January 2016, his out-of-nowhere romance with Chyna initially marked a change for the better, and he started working out and eating healthier. The pair got engaged that April, and the Kardashians had to publicly bite their tongues for fear of upsetting and further alienating him. Rob was catapulted even more into the spotlight after they announced Chyna's pregnancy last May, and began filming for their own reality spin-off, Rob & Chyna, that summer. The constant pressures of being on-camera often led to dramatic fights between the couple.
Last fall and winter, when the couple had several very public spats on social media, Kardashian shared younger sister Kylie Jenner's phone number on Twitter, posted screen grabs of Chyna's alleged conversations with other men, and at times deleted all of his posts. And still, the cameras kept rolling.
The feud also points to something bigger: How such instances of social media shaming are treated by both users and the platforms.
Even those who scoff at reality TV and celebrity news couldn't avoid the barrage of headlines that surfaced Wednesday as a result of the Kardashian-Chyna brouhaha. Though some users did call out Kardashian's hateful revenge porn and slut shaming as problematic, many more simply drummed up memes, playing the clearly troubled relationship as a form of grotesque entertainment.
Can we talk about the fact Donald Trump and Rob Kardashian essentially tweeted the same thing today pic.twitter.com/N7uhnGMur0— sweet daddy (@callmedgoodz) July 5, 2017
This also created an unusual situation for Twitter and Instagram: Never before has such a public figure distributed revenge porn so unabashedly, according to Carrie Goldberg, a New York-based lawyer who founded a firm dedicated to fighting sexual exploitation. "It's completely unprecedented for somebody with such an enormous social media following to be the perpetrator here," she told the Washington Post.
After Instagram shut down Kardashian's account, the reality star moved to Twitter and reposted the same three NSFW photos. They remained online for approximately 30 minutes before they were removed; his tweets referencing the photos are still online. A representative for the company told Business Insider that Twitter does not comment on individual accounts but did point to its "hateful conduct" policy.
"The consequences for violating our rules vary depending on the severity of the violation and the person's previous record of violations," the policy reads. "For example, we may ask someone to remove the offending tweet before they can tweet again. For other cases, we may suspend an account."
Update: Blac Chyna addressed the scandal, with attorney Lisa Bloom by her side, in a pre-taped interview on Good Morning America which aired Monday.
"I was devastated, of course. I'm like, how could somebody, like, post these pictures of me?" Chyna said. "And I'm like, 'Wow, OK.' Like, this is a person that I trusted. I felt...betrayed."
She added that she and her ex have exchanged words since the photos were posted. "I talked to Rob about everything. I talked to him," she said. "The moral of the story is, like, he doesn't respect me, so if you can't respect me, you have to respect the law."
"I would like to just say something to all the women out there," she concluded. "You know, you're not the only one that's probably going through something. So, I feel as though if one person speaks up, hopefully it will be a domino effect."
Update: A Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner granted Blac Chyna a temporary restraining order against Kardashian late Monday morning, though no further details were provided. A hearing is set for August 8th.