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First article in the  "America on the Decline"  Series

Business Insider
It Will Be Hard To Stop The Rise Of Revenge Porn

Dylan Love | Feb. 8, 2013, 7:00 PM

Revenge Porn

There is a seedy underbelly of the internet where people post nude or otherwise compromising photos of their ex-girlfriends or boyfriends for anyone to see, sometimes to get back at a lover who jilted them.

These so-called "revenge porn" sites bring up a number of questions. Why aren't they illegal? How big is the "revenge porn" business? And what does the existence of these sites say about our culture in general?

Revenge porn is born

Revenge porn seems to have first come to the public eye with the 2010 launch of a now-defunct submissions-based pornographic site called IsAnyoneUp. It was started by founder Hunter Moore, who got the idea when a woman repeatedly sent him nude photographs of herself. He posted the pictures to the site and gave the web-browsing public a means to do the same thing with its own photographs.

The site took off, getting 30 million pageviews per month and bringing in $10,000 in monthly advertising revenue.

Despite a number of incidents, legal and otherwise (Moore was even stabbed with a pen by a woman featured on the site in 2011), the site remained operational until Moore took it down of his own volition in 2012.

But Pandora's proverbial box had been opened, and a number of similar sites sprang up in its wake.

One of the more notorious of these sites in operation today is PinkMeth. The premise is pretty much identical to that of IsAnyoneUp users submit nude photographs of people to the site and they're posted for anyone to see.

But PinkMeth seems to take this concept a step further, disclosing loads of personal data on the subjects in the photographs their names, their birth dates, their email addresses, and even links to their social networking profiles like Twitter and Facebook.

What the law says about revenge porn

Can PinkMeth do this and still operate within the bounds of the law? However intuitively wrong revenge porn might seem, sites operate in a legal gray area due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states websites can't be held responsible for content submitted by a third party.

We reached out to founder Robert Leshner and policy director Samantha Leland at privacy company Safe Shepherd to learn more.

"Most of these sites rely exclusively on third party submissions," they told us, "and most of those submissions are at least nominally anonymous. The sites make money by posting these images, and thus have no incentive to create policies that make it easy for victims to remove the submitted photos ... Congress could try to narrowly define an exception that would protect victims of things like revenge porn and non-consensual pornography, but they'll likely get pushback from companies and organizations that want to keep content restrictions on the internet as minimal as possible. Striking that balance is important."

But on the other hand, some see it as unambiguously illegal. We spoke to Jason van Dyke, a Texas attorney who has handled several revenge porn cases, and he says there's no doubt that "it's completely illegal" when published without accompanying documentation verifying the ages of the people in the photos.

"My understanding of federal law is that when someone's involved in the distribution of porn, certain legal documentation is required," van Dyke said. "I'm fine with conventional porn being legal, but there have to be steps taken to ensure that minors are protected. Child pornography is against the law in every state."

Van Dyke says the ramifications run deeper than simply breaking the law, adding that "the revealing of birth dates and social networking info constitutes personally identifiable information. The best-case scenario is that these girls could become victims of identity theft. The worst-case scenario is that sex offenders use the info to prey on them."

The list of options for victims of revenge porn is only a short one. Van Dyke told us victims should always file a police report so that if they are assaulted, there's some documentation ahead of time. Restraining orders are possible, and depending on the state you're in, you might be able to take action under privacy, trespassing, or cyber stalking laws, but this still doesn't get to the heart of the problem there's a naked photo of you on the Internet that was never meant to be public.

Removing something from the Internet for good is nearly impossible. Colorado attorney Andrew Contiguglia told us that not even a DMCA takedown notice is enough those only work if the photograph bears a registered copyright, requiring paperwork filed with the government.

Despite this inherent difficulty, van Dyke says that "there a lot of ways a creative lawyer can get that content hidden or make life miserable for the person who posted it."

What this says about us

The mere fact that revenge porn exists that there's a demand and a supply of it says depressing things about culture on the internet.

Leshner and Leland see it as a kind of high-tech rape:

"When we teach women not to walk alone in public after dark, not to wear particular kinds of clothing, not to engage in consensual acts like taking nude photos or making sex tapes, we're saying that women can expect to be victims because they are women, and that it is more important to limit a victim's participation in public life than it is to remedy the systemic injustices that lead to victimization in the first place. Revenge porn is merely a high tech piece of rape culture, and sadly it doesn't say anything about our culture that we didn't already know."

Van Dyke explained that "we have a number of TV shows documenting some of the worst behavior, like Jersey Shore, and showing that terrible behavior as acceptable. I'm not surprised that this type of thing exists, but there are just certain things you don't do to women. I'm not fighting these sites because I'm a conservative or hate porn it's a legitimate business and there's a place for it but there are people on all sides of the political spectrum who want it to be a felony. If we can't agree that this shouldn't be allowed, then we have serious problems."

Read the original article on-line.