Scarlett Johansson Email Hacker Claims Celebrity Addiction. Is That a Real Thing?
Scarlett Johansson at a Marine base in Kuwait during a 2008 USO tour.
Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

A man from Florida who was arrested on charges that he hacked the email accounts of actress Scarlett Johansson and at least 49 other celebrities and their friends said he's glad he got caught. He claims he's addicted to celebrities, and that without the intervention, he couldn't stop hacking their accounts.

Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., told a local Florida news station that his hacking began simply as a "curiosity" but soon turned into an addiction for stealing celebrity secrets. He hacked into phones and email accounts of stars such as Johansson and singer/actress Miley Cyrus. Chaney was able to guess celebrities' email passwords by monitoring their social media accounts for possible clues such as a pet's name that might point to a password.

When it came time for the accused hacker to tell his story, Chaney simply said that he couldn't control himself and that he had an addiction. But is that just a ploy for leniency, or can people actually get addicted to celebrity hacking?

Some experts say it's possible. "The 'addiction' in this case is not just to celebrity gossip, but also to being able to hack into private information as such," said Hilde Van den Bulck, a researcher at Antwerp University in Belgium who studies celebrity gossip.

Van den Bulck said that Chaney's issue is likely an addiction to hacking itself, and the celebrity aspect is just icing on the cake. "Hacking is about the power to go where nobody else (apart from a very limited number of insiders) manages to go. This is a very addictive kind of power, which probably also holds true for people hacking banks or whatever other type of 'almost impossible to get hold of' information. It is an addiction to the adrenaline and the fact that it is illegal makes it even more exciting," Van den Bulck said.

Of course, this "secret" information is very much part of the aura of celebrities . "The reasons we are 'all' keen on celebrity gossip is because they combine the extraordinary with the ordinary and that their image is composed of a combination of a public image the roles they play, the type of music they perform or the sports they excel in with a private image, and, also glimpses of their real life through paparazzi pictures," she said.

The private image is the one that the public is often most interested in: It's where the "dirty" and "juicy stuff" comes from, Van den Bulck said. Combined with the adrenaline rush that Chaney probably got from hacking into private accounts, he "was right there where this most intriguing information was to be found," she said. "No wonder he found it hard to stop doing it."

Van den Bulck said that celebrity gossip is nothing more than a bit of entertainment for the large majority of people, but for some it can spiral into stalking or pathological problems. There is help for people who feel addicted to celebrity gossip, and being aware of the problem and consuming less media is a good first step, she said.

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