XXX in Tech

Victims of Revenge Porn Mount Class Action Suit Against GoDaddy and Texxxan.com

“Those of us on there go to the grocery store and everybody recognizes you."
Ms. Toups being filmed for a video news segment about her experience with revenge porn. (Photo: Instagram/h0lliewood)

Ms. Toups being filmed for a video news segment about her experience with revenge porn. (Photo: Instagram/h0lliewood)

“I don’t think that society really realizes how rampant it is,” Sarah, a victim of revenge porn, told Betabeat in a feature we wrote last month about the effort to put a stop to sites that take intimate photos of women and publish them without their permission. “And right now,” she added, “there’s not a lot that victims can do about it.”

Last week, however, several women–some affiliated with Sarah’s organization, End Revenge Porn–joined a class action lawsuit with the hopes of taking down a prominent revenge porn website.

Hollie Toups, a 32-year-old resident of Beaumont, Texas, has publicly come forward to discuss her painful experience with revenge porn in an effort to encourage other victims to do the same. Ms. Toups is now one of at least 23 women who have signed on to a class action lawsuit that seeks to prosecute the owners of Texxxan.com and its hosting company GoDaddy for invasion of privacy and mental anguish. Texxxan.com hosts intimate photos of women living in Texas that have been submitted without their consent.

“I live in an extremely small town and the website was flooded with people that I knew,” Ms. Toups said. “Those of us on there go to the grocery store and everybody recognizes you. Not everybody says something, but you get a lot of like, ‘Hey, do I know you?’ or, ‘I recognize you from somewhere.’ But then you also get people that will just come out and say it.”

Like many victims of revenge porn sites, Ms. Toups told Betabeat that some of her photos appear to have been uploaded by an ex-boyfriend, while others she says she never sent to anyone and may have been lifted from her phone or computer. The photos had been uploaded along with a link to her Facebook profile and real name, so she received harassing messages for weeks after her photos surfaced on the site.

“GoDaddy is profiting off of it,” said John S. Morgan, Ms. Toups’ lawyer. “The reality of it is at some level this issue of revenge porn has to become a public discussion and a legislative discussion and it raises issues of corporate responsibility. Why would an organization like GoDaddy want to give its name to this type of website?” (We assume Mr. Morgan hasn’t seen GoDaddy’s ads.) GoDaddy told us, “We don’t comment on pending litigation.”

Considering the numerous repercussions that keep many victims silent, Ms. Toups’ decision to join the lawsuit under her real name is brave. Many revenge porn victims–including Sarah–are forced to remain anonymous or else face the wrath of vengeful exes who find renewed motivation to post their pictures on porn websites. Because of the intimate nature of the photos, many women are also embarrassed to publicly admit that they were victims, and others are afraid of cyberbullying from the passionate fandoms revenge porn proprietors attract.

Ms. Toups said she was “in a straight panic” for days after discovering the photos, and emailed the site’s owner to try to get them taken down. “They replied and said they would be happy to remove the pictures for me if I would enter my credit card information,” she said. “I went from being depressed and embarrassed to being really pissed off.”

Texxxan.com isn’t the only website allegedly engaging in this sort of blackmail enterprise. Other revenge porn sites also benefit both from posting photos and removing them. Is Anybody Down, a copycat site of Hunter Moore’s infamous Is Anyone Up, has a relationship with a third-party website called Takedown Hammer that will scrub your photos from Is Anybody Down, but only for a fee.

Is Anybody Down features ads for Takedown Hammer across its site, and a link called “Get Me Off This Site!” takes you to a post about Takedown Hammer’s success in removing its clients’ photos from Is Anybody Down. Takedown Hammer claims to be operated by a New York-based lawyer named David Blade, III, but no such name appears in the New York State Unified Court System’s attorney database.

Nevada-based lawyer Marc Randazza, who is representing Bullyville founder James McGibley in a defamation suit against the revenge porn proprietor Hunter Moore, has conversed extensively with the profiteers of Is Anybody Down. After studying the IP addresses associated with the computers of Is Anybody Down’s owner Craig Brittain and the owner of Takedown Hammer, he told Betabeat that the two sites are definitely both run by the same person.

“I have clear and convincing evidence that the exact same IP address is being used by both emails from the Takedown Hammer and Is Anybody Up,” Mr. Randazza said.

Ms. Toups (Photo: Twitter)

Ms. Toups (Photo: Twitter)

Ms. Toups is unfortunately well-acquainted with this new form of digital extortion, but initially struggled to find a lawyer willing to represent her. Many revenge porn victims want to sue, but only anonymously, which makes it much more difficult to launch a successful class action suit.

After several lawyers turned her down, Ms. Toups found John S. Morgan, an attorney in Southeast Texas. With the help of Mr. Morgan and Sarah, Ms. Toups reached out to victims in her area to see if they would be interested in joining the suit. The class action suit petition was filed in Orange County, Texas on Friday.

“To anyone affected by this, I stress to you, you are not alone! It’s not your fault, and you did nothing wrong!” Ms. Toups wrote in a statement representing the women involved in the suit. “You don’t have to face this alone anymore.I know the emotions you’re feeling and what you’ve been going through, and don’t have to feel ashamed! Hold your head high.”

“I think 99 percent of victims get told no [by lawyers] so they give up,” Ms. Toups said by phone. “I apparently was born with a hardheaded trait that came in handy for once, and I refused to accept the fact that there was nothing that could be done.”

Many proprietors of revenge porn websites claim they are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that websites are not liable for content submitted by users. Mr. Morgan argues that because these sites knowingly post photos without the subject’s consent, and advertise their sites as such, they aren’t protected by this law. He also noted that because Texxxan.com only posts the photos of women living in Texas, he is pursuing the case under state law instead of federal law.

Mr. Morgan also intends to sue all those who signed up for a subscription on Texxxan.com, paying a monthly fee to get access to more personal information of the women in the photos. After news of the suit broke, Texxxan.com became viewable only to its members.

As for Ms. Toups, who’s studying criminal justice and currently works for the state as a mentor for kids, she’s decided to turn her experience into a vehicle for her to positively impact the lives of other victims.

“Hollie reached out to me to see how she could help with the cause,” Sarah told Betabeat. “I’m working closely with her and the woman behind Women Against Revenge Porn to reach out to victims, letting them know about our petition and our sites.” (Sarah said that any lawyers interested in helping victims can submit their contact info via the Legal Contacts page on End Revenge Porn.)

“I’ve been trying to figure out why this happened,” Ms. Toups said. “Maybe it happened to me so I could help someone. Several of the girls that I’ve been in contact with have been suicidal and I feel like if I had reached them sooner they would not even have attempted that. I’m one of the older ones–most of them are younger–so I felt somebody has to start it. And I knew that once I did even the ones who were scared would end up coming out.”

Ms. Toups said that since going public on a local Texas TV station on Thursday night, other girls have contacted Mr. Morgan hoping to join the suit.

Despite mounting pressure from revenge porn victims, hackers and lawmakers, the web’s most notorious revenge porn entrepreneur, Hunter Moore, is still at it. Last Friday, Mr. Moore tweeted that his TV show had been picked up, though declined to say for which network.

Class Action Suit Against GoDaddy.com and Texxxan.com

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com