The Battle Over Revenge Porn

Can Hunter Moore, the Web’s vilest entrepreneur, be stopped?

The king of revenge porn had just slept with a girl on her 18th birthday at an inconspicuous hotel in Chinatown, and he had the cellphone snap of her license to prove it. Although he lives in San Francisco, the notorious Hunter Moore was in New York to serve a community-service sentence for an incident in which he’d head-butted a go-go dancer.

“I was so coked out,” Moore told The Observer, as we made our way to a Broome Street bar called Lolita. Tall and thin with ink-colored hair and eyes to match, wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, Moore sipped a rum and Coke as we slid into a booth toward the back. Black tattoos reached like spiders across his arms.

Moore is the proprietor of Is Anyone Up, which until last spring was the Web’s most prominent revenge-porn hub, a site where spurned exes post embarrassing images of former lovers. Deemed “The Most Hated Man on the Internet” by Rolling Stone, Moore revels in his position as a professional antagonist, gleefully flinging his favored retort—“I really don’t give a fuck.” He doesn’t sleep well at night, but not because his day job haunts him: He’s an insomniac. As for guilt, he absolves himself by reasoning that it’s not him submitting the photos. He’s simply providing a platform for others to do so.

“Why should I care?” Moore said. “It’s not my life. It’s literally just a business. It’s stupid not to monetize it.”

Moore has built a lucrative career off of other people’s naked pictures, and he’s amassed a veritable army of fans in the process. He boasts close to 105,000 Twitter followers, primarily young women who Tweet him nude photos and starstruck bros who wish they too could get paid to see girls naked, all eager to angrily and passionately defend Moore should anyone challenge his activities.

Last spring, following a Village Voice cover story on his empire, it appeared for a moment that Moore had had a change of heart. He sold Is Anyone Up to James McGibney, the owner of Bullyville, an anti-bullying site, and wrote a letter claiming that he was a changed man, no longer interested in facilitating the proliferation of revenge porn. It may have been his slyest provocation yet.

“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,” Moore said of the incident. “I think bullying is bullshit, and it’s just a soccer-mom fad.”

Now, Moore is launching a new project: a revenge-porn site called HunterMoore.tv that will include all of the old content from Is Anyone Up, in addition to new material. Perhaps most astoundingly, he told us that the site will now allow contributors to post the address of a target along with the scandalous photos. HunterMoore.tv will then display the nudes on a map, showing exactly where the subjects of the pictures live.

“I know—it’s scary as shit,” Moore admitted, noting that the site’s new feature will go live in the coming month.

He checked his iPhone, which had been lighting up with text messages all night. His “friend/drug supplier” was calling, and Moore asked if he could bring him “a little somethin’.” The Observer took this to mean cocaine, which he told us on multiple occasions was his current drug of choice.

After he hung up, we swung back to the topic of the victims of his site and whether or not he feels bad for them. At the word “victim,” Moore made a motion with his hand to signify masturbation and rolled his eyes.

“In a perfect world, there would be no bullying and there would be no people like me and there would be no sites like mine,” he explained. “But we don’t live in a perfect world.”

On an unremarkable Tuesday afternoon, while eating lunch alone at a restaurant, Sarah, a consultant then in her mid-20s (she asked to use a pseudonym), received an e-mail that would fundamentally alter the course of her life. Sent by an anonymous tipster, the e-mail included a link to a website she’d never heard of, along with the message, “Someone is trying to make life very difficult for you.” When she clicked the link, Sarah was horrified to find nude pictures of herself filling the screen, alongside personal information including her full name and a link to her Facebook profile.

“My stomach just dropped,” Sarah told The Observer. “I froze, immediately asked for the check, and then everything that happened after that is just a blur.”

Throughout the harrowing weeks that followed, Sarah learned that a scorned ex-boyfriend had uploaded intimate pictures that she had sent to him in confidence to a slew of websites. For months afterward, she continued to receive harassing e-mails from revenge-porn aficionados who had seen her pictures online.

Sarah’s photos were typical revenge-porn fodder. She was in a long-distance relationship at the time, and she had taken some nude photos at her then-boyfriend’s request; others had been taken by him while the two were engaged in sexual acts.

In addition to uploading the photos to hundreds of revenge-porn sites, Sarah’s ex also sent them to everyone she worked with, from an e-mail address he had rigged to appear to come from her. “In the end, I decided to leave my job there, because the pictures were all up in association with my position and the company,” she said. “I continued to receive harassing e-mails at my e-mail address there and honestly feared that sooner or later I would be physically stalked at work. There were some nights that I was working late and alone at the office, and would jump at every little sound.” Sarah says that despite the fact she never considered herself a weapons-toting kind of gal, she bought a stun gun and never left the house without it; she also anticipates that “Santa will leave a gun under the tree for me this Christmas.”

Because her photos are on hundreds of revenge-porn sites, Sarah also said that she’s constantly worried that people recognize her on the street. “I just feel like I’m now a prime target for actual rape,” she said. “I never walk alone at night, and I get chills when I catch someone staring at me. I always wonder to myself, ‘Are they staring because they recognize me from what’s on the Internet?’”

One of the fundamental truths of the Internet is that once an image is uploaded, it’s almost impossible to permanently scrape it from the Web. When Sarah Googled her name, the first 10 pages of results were all links to her naked photos. She tried for months afterward to expunge her photos from the hundreds of revenge-porn, regular porn and torrent sites that had picked them up. The police were of no help: They told her that because she was over 18 when the photos were taken, what her ex was doing was technically legal. Furthermore, because they were in his possession, the photos were technically his property.

Unable to afford expensive legal fees that would allow her to file a civil suit, Sarah researched other options that could rid the Web of the photos that haunted her. She filed Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down requests claiming that her ex was engaging in copyright infringement and battled with foreign webmasters, who knew that, because their servers were hosted elsewhere, they were beyond U.S. jurisdiction. None of her efforts worked: To this day, her photos are online. She even had to change her name because of it.

“It’s just horrible,” she added, the pain in her voice palpable. “I don’t think that society really realizes how rampant it is. And right now, there’s not a lot that victims can do about it.”

There are several ways your risqué snaps could end up on a revenge-porn site without your consent like Sarah’s did. The most common is that they could be submitted, along with links to your social-media profiles, by a spiteful ex whom you once trusted with such intimate material. Some posters are men who feel rejected and get together to punish one another’s exes out of a twisted sense of duty and brotherhood. Unlike spray-tanned, airbrushed porn manufactured by suburban L.A. studios, revenge porn offers a rare, voyeuristic window into the private lives of couples. It’s amateur porn in its purest sense, which is likely a generous part of its appeal. But revenge porn doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and even barring issues of consent, there’s also an unshakable subtext that perhaps women deserve to be punished for trusting their male partners.

To date, hosting and disseminating revenge porn is a legal gray area, although victims have sued on a host of legal grounds. Las Vegas-based copyright lawyer Marc Randazza is currently representing a client who is suing Moore on copyright grounds, after her photos appeared on Is Anyone Up and Moore declined to honor her take-down request. He’s also representing McGibney, the Bullyville founder, in a defamation case against Moore after he publicly accused McGibney of being a pedophile.

There are some federal cyberstalking laws created to protect victims such as Sarah from retaliatory exes. “Under criminal law, state and federal law, there exist cyberstalking laws that cover the very activity that [Sarah’s] perpetrator is engaged in, which is repeated online behavior designed with the intent to cause substantial emotional distress,” said University of Maryland law professor and cyberstalking expert Danielle Citron. “That kind of behavior is covered by federal cyberstalking law, as well as her state’s stalking law. The key problem is that it’s not enforced. So often, cops say, ‘Oh, just turn off your computer, you’ll clean up your online search, boys will be boys, they’ll just forget about you.’”

“Cops are fucking useless,” Randazza said.

Meanwhile, proprietors of revenge-porn sites such as Moore are currently protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that websites are not liable for content submitted by users. “No one can do shit, and I don’t give a fuck,” Moore said. “I have a legal team, and we’ve never even heard of these fucking people [suing us].”

Because courts have never dealt with revenge-porn sites before, there isn’t a clear legal precedent. But Randazza, who specializes in copyright law, is so determined to destroy sites like Is Anybody Up that he’s waiving legal fees for any victims who have appeared on the site.

“The fact that guys will do this makes it less likely that any woman will send you a naked picture of herself,” Randazza said. “Just from the perspective of not being a douche, any guy who meets anybody who runs one of these sites should punch them in the face.”

“And if you do, I’ll represent you for free,” he added.

A few days after meeting with The Observer, Moore told a reporter at Salon that he had been so coked out and drunk that he didn’t even remember giving the interview. He claimed that HunterMoore.tv would not include an address-submission field, and that only he would be posting the addresses of people who had burned him. But his backpedaling may have been for naught: Moore had riled the Internet’s most notorious sleeping giant, the hacker collective Anonymous, which immediately launched an operation to destroy his revenge-porn empire. Along with a foreboding video and a call to arms for all members to take Moore to task for his behavior, Anonymous published extensive personal information about Moore, including his home address and the names of his family members.

It seemed strange that Anonymous, which has been known to publish the personal information of its targets—much like the vengeful lovers who flock to Moore’s site—would go after someone who is effectively guilty of the same crime. However, the group has been known to go after bullies, helping to track down the ring of pedophiles who blackmailed 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who had committed suicide following the cyber-harassment. And KY Anonymous, the Anonymous operative who launched the campaign, reasoned that Moore’s willingness to harm the blameless makes him a worthy target. “We won’t stand by while someone uses the Internet to victimize and capitalize off the misery of others,” said KY Anonymous. “We are all about free enterprise, but we are not about the things that Hunter Moore and other revenge-porn sites are guilty of.”

The collective’s move raised some thorny questions: Is it possible to protect people from revenge porn while also supporting an open Internet, free from censorship and unnecessary government interference?

Charlotte Laws, an NBC commentator and former California politician, believes it’s possible to create legal protections for revenge-porn victims while also valuing a free Web. She’s working to put tougher laws in place, a campaign she began after her daughter was the victim of a hack that led to her private photos being uploaded to revenge-porn sites.

“Like a traditional rape victim, my daughter just balled up and didn’t want to face it or talk to anyone,” Laws recalled.

“I don’t think a minor legislative change regarding revenge porn would hamper that ‘freeness and openness’ of the Internet in any serious way,” she added. “My goal is only to limit speech when it comes to nonconsensual graphic sexual photographs and videos. Nothing more.”

Laws pointed to 18 USC 2257, a law created for the pornography industry that requires commercial porn websites to index anyone who appears nude alongside a copy of their driver’s license proving that they’re 18. She argues that if a website operator like Moore had to produce a 2257 form and driver’s license for every person submitted to his site, “he would basically be limited to publishing ‘self-submits’ or photos approved by the ‘actor’ or ‘actress.’”

Citron suggested that more states adopt video voyeurism laws like the one currently on the books in New Jersey that criminalizes publishing “pictures that are sexual in nature and naked pictures of sex acts without the person’s consent.”

Despite Moore’s flagrantly defiant attitude, HunterMoore.tv’s potential new mapping feature could be the fatal blow to his legal defense. Citron argues that by encouraging users to include addresses with their submissions, he could be facilitating stalking. “If he is putting up fields with someone’s address and a field ensuring that there’s a map to facilitate stalking, I think there’s an argument to be made that he is engaging in cyberstalking under federal criminal law,” Citron told The Observer. “Section 230 explicitly does not immunize federal criminal-law violations.”

Sarah, the revenge-porn victim, is also working with Laws to pass new laws. Along with a number of friends, she started End Revenge Porn, an online hub for victims to congregate, share their stories and take action. The group is collecting signatures for a petition that seeks to halt revenge porn.

“People call it cyber-rape, and it absolutely is,” Sarah said. “That’s why we’re pushing to have the law make it a felony. It equates to just how much damage this does to someone’s life.

“Once those pictures go up,” she added, “they never come down.”

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