Recently, I did an interview with Dame Magazine regarding a landmark revenge porn lawsuit against Go Daddy. The complaint alleges that the website hosting provider was a complicit and willing partner in harassing and victimizing dozens of women online, including the young plaintiff named Holly Jacobs.
Go Daddy refused to remove nude images and personal identifying information about the women from its servers. The images and information was posted without the victim’s consent on Texxxan.com, a “revenge porn” website hosted by Go Daddy dedicated to humiliating and emotionally blackmailing women. The photos that were posted to Texxxan.com, without the victims’ permission, were generally uploaded by jaded ex-boyfriends and husbands with the sole intention of harassing, menacing and causing harm to the victim’s professional reputations. Texxxan.com and other “revenge porn” sites would often then require a “fee” from victims in order to remove the photos and personal information. These sites also enjoyed a significant income stream from “click advertising”.
Sounds a lot like blackmail, exploitation and coercion, right? Well it is. Revenge porn is the new scourge of the internet. Why isn’t Go Daddy required to remove these images immediately? Because of a loop hole in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which was written to protect interactive computer service providers, like You Tube, Yahoo and Facebook and others from the acts of 3rd party users who post content to their sites. Unlike YouTube, Facebook and even Google, Go Daddy is generally unwilling to address activities on its servers that clearly victimize people, and violate federal and state laws. Why doesn’t Go Daddy want to remove revenge porn and other criminal and defamatory materials from their servers? From my perspective, its because the company doesn’t care about people. Go Daddy is a privately corporation and part of a private equity portfolio that is only focused on maximizing profits for its shareholders, not with being responsible corporate citizens. Much like an oil company that fouls the water and land with petroleum in an effort to make 200% more profit, Go Daddy is more interested in profiting from sites like Texxxan.com than doing the right thing.
Revenge porn is a form of criminal stalking, which is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories. According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 1 in 4 stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking such as e-mail (83%) or instant messaging (35%). Nearly 3 in 4 stalking victims knew their offender in some capacity. Moreover, women are at greater risk than men for stalking victimization. In 2012, the risk of stalking victimization was highest for individuals who were divorced or separated—34 per 1,000 individuals.
Let’s be clear, it is not only immoral, but illegal to post nude and intimate photos or video of individuals (generally women) without their permission, on websites and blogs dedicated to humiliating, harassing and drawing unwanted attention to the victims. This is especially true when the images are accompanied by personal identifying information (name, address, employers, family details, etc) about the victims to ensure the target of this malicious act is clearly identified and maximum damage is done. Victims with money and resources are forced to go to civil court and, at great expense, obtain court orders against web hosting companies like Go Daddy in order to compel them to remove the photos. Some victims actually pay-off these sites (hosted by companies like Go Daddy) in order to remove this images quickly and hopefully minimize the damage. However, photos typically pop-up on other sites in the future as victims work to remove them, like a sick, online version of Whac-A-Mole. This ongoing pattern of “pop-up revenge porn” keeps victims in a constant state of panic and uncertainty over their online reputation and personal safety. It also becomes expensive when companies like Go Daddy unethically refuse to remove photos and defamatory materials.
Harassers use shame and fear of rejection by family and friends, and loss of job opportunities against victims. They know that the world is full of “busy bodies” who would rather judge a victim for being shown nude on the internet, against her will, instead of focusing on the sick sociopath who posted the images. By refusing to remove illegal materials from its servers, Go Daddy has proven that it is just as complicit in stalking, harassment and defaming women, like Holly Jacobs, as any criminal off the street. I really hope Holly wins. She would be setting an important precedent that would benefit women and future generations to come.