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Porn Site Allows Ex-Lovers to Get Their Revenge Online: How They're Getting Away With It

When I first started reading about Hunter Moore, I was immediately reminded of Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild fame. Hunter Moore is the creator of the revenge porn website, Is Anyone Up? The website, which was active until around April of last year, was based around amateur pornographic photos of women. The content was usually submitted without the women’s knowledge or consent, along with their detailed contact information: name, social media profile, and city. The photos are generally posted by scorned exes, but there have been claims that some pictures were obtained via hackers, which prompted an FBI investigation into the website.

Moore is a self-proclaimed cocaine aficionado and lover of head-butting. In a recent interview, he commented on the day he took Is Anyone Up offline after issuing a public apology:

“I literally had a half pound of cocaine on a fucking table with like 16 of my friends and we were busting up laughing taking turns writing this stupid letter,” Mr. Moore said of the incident. “I think bullying is bullshit and it’s just a soccer-mom fad.” 

Hunter Moore, just wants you to know what a man he is. He is just taking advantage of the situation for money, like anyone else would. That’s all he is interested in. Each interview Moore does is formulaic. He talks about making money, how all he does is think in terms of analytics, how he doesn’t even get that interested in threesomes anymore, he just has sex so that he has a good story to put on the internet the next day.

After being reformed for a short period of time, Hunter decided he would instead start a new site, where all of the old content from Is Anyone Up will be posted along with new content. There will also be a new submission form with a field for the individual's address. But he has recently backed off the admission that there would be an address mapping feature claiming to have been ‘drunk and coked out of his mind’ when he originally made the claim

Moore's success prompted a slew of impersonator revenge porn websites, including Texxxan.com and IsAnybodyDown. These websites spring up with little fear of reprisal because they are protected by Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act.

The Communications and Decency Act (CDA) was passed in 1996. It was one of the first pieces of legislation that sought to regulate use of the internet, in particular content considered to be indecent. The portion of the act dealing with indecent content was struck down in the 1997 landmark Supreme Court case, Reno v ACLU.  

Section 230 of the CDA deals with content published on the internet. It says:  

Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material:

Treatment of publisher or speaker:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. 

What does that actually mean? Section 230 has been used to protect Facebook from being held liable for what its users write. It prevents websites from being held liable for information sent in by other people, through RSS feeds etc. 

That means that for individuals like Hunter Moore, or other revenge porn websites, they would not be liable for the posting of the pictures, because that information came to them from another content provider. Section 230 is incredibly sweeping in its protection of websites and providing immunity for websites that sponsor user submitted content. 

In addition to Section 230, there is also the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which was passed in 1998. DMCA also protects service providers that publish user submitted content. Still, some users have been successful in issuing a DMCA take down notice to websites like Is Anyone Up, on the basis that the users Facebook profile or other social media profile page is a violation of copyright. 

"Revenge porn" sites almost certainly fall into this category. That’s why they are still up and thriving. If an individual attempts to have their photos removed from Texxxan.com, they are first asked for their credit card information. A recent class action lawsuit filed against the websites Texxxan.com and hosting company GoDaddy.com is hoping to change all of that on the basis of Texas state privacy laws. 

The lawsuit reads:

“Additionally, all of these Plaintiffs sue the Defendants for the Texas state law torts of intrusion on their right to seclusion, the public disclosure of their private facts, the wrongful appropriation their names or likenesses, false light invasion of privacy, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a civil conspiracy through a meeting of the minds to perpetrate these state law torts.”  

Recently, a lawyer in Toledo was successful in shutting down two revenge porn websites on the threat of a lawsuit, but that is far less likely to be the case in instances where an individual has significant access to legal or financial resources. Both sites in the Toledo incident were taken down voluntary. 

It is unclear whether or not the Texxxan.com lawsuit will ever see the light of day, but if it does it is sure to face an uphill battle. In several instances, the law would appear to be on the side of revenge porn solicitors. The case of Cecilia Barnes v. Yahoo! Inc. serves as an example. Cecilia sued Yahoo after a third party posted a profile of her that contained nude photographs and her contact information. The courts ruled that Yahoo! Inc. had immunity in this case provided under Section 230 of the CDA. 

Endrevengeporn.com has a petition you can sign to help eradicate revenge porn websites. It defines revenge porn as 'cyber rape,' which is problematic due to its mis-appropriation of the word rape. That being said, revenge porn surely has its place in cultivating rape culture due to the lack of consent revolving around the submission of photographs and information. The absence of consent for the distribution of the photos is part of the allure and sexual attraction. The individuals who submit these photos do so because there is a sense of entitlement and a feeling of ownership. It offers a way for these men to degrade, humiliate, embarass or otherwise hold power over the non-consenting women. All of these things contribute to rape culture, but that is an article for another time. 

It is unclear if the comments section that often accompanies revenge porn websites, where women are often told to kill themselves, would fall under any cyber harassment, cyberstalking or cyber bullying laws. A growing number of states are adopting such laws, but it would be very difficult to prove, as just one comment on a website cannot amount to cyber harassment/bullying/stalking. The harassment can only come after repeated unwanted interactions, and there has to have been an attempt by the victim to put an end to the unwanted behavior. 

There is no clear step forward. As it stands, the law would appear to be on the side of revenge porn websites. The only way to change that would be to amend Section 230 of the CDA or implement new legislation. At the intersection of this issue is freedom of speech, privacy, and how we use the internet. Any legislation on this topic would have to be incredibly narrow in its purpose or face challenges of unconstitutionality. We know from past court decisions that it has been exceedingly difficult to draft legislation that carefully weighed all three of these concerns.

Without sustained pressure by individuals to see a change in the area of revenge porn, it is unlikely that legislators will take up the banner to do so on their own.

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