I hope revenge porn survivors get their revenge

A group of at least 23 women in the United States has filed a class-action lawsuit for invasion of privacy and causing mental anguish against revenge porn site Texxxan and its hosting service, GoDaddy (like you needed another reason to hate GoDaddy).

Revenge porn is a vile category of online content wherein a person posts nude photos or videos of another person without their consent (usually a woman, often an ex-lover). A cursory Google search will yield pages of sites hosting such content. Many of these sites include the women’s names, contact information and links to their social media profiles. Some of them include maps to the women’s homes.

As we all know, there is no shortage on the Internet of sexually explicit photos or video of consenting women. Porn (with consenting parties) is probably the Internet’s most popular application. The knowledge that women on revenge porn sites have not consented to the photo or video’s distribution is precisely what makes these sites titillating for their fans. One advocacy group, End Revenge Porn, likens it to “cyber-rape”.

Revenge porn perpetuates a culture that sees women’s bodies as public property, regardless of whether or not they have consented. Revenge porn ruins lives. Revenge porn, and a culture that sees it as invariably the woman’s fault, might have been what killed British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd.

Courts in Quebec and Australia have ruled in favour of the survivor in revenge porn lawsuits, awarding damages of $40,000 to the survivor in both cases. Unfortunately one US statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, appears to leave American survivors of revenge porn without much recourse. This section protects websites from legal responsibility for any content submitted by users.

John S. Morgan, the lawyer representing the Texxxan lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Hollie Toups, plans to argue that sites which advertise an illegal purpose for collecting user-generated content are not protected under Section 230. He may have precedent. In 2003, California district court ruled that website Roommates.com was not protected under Section 230 for their publication of a discriminatory roommate-finding questionnaire. Their reason? The questionnaire specifically induced site users to express roommate preferences that were illegal.

Revenge porn is yet another example of the legal system struggling to adapt to how much of our communication, transactions, and lives play out on the Internet. I’ll be following this case, and I hope you do too.