The reasons I write about ‘revenge’ or ‘involuntary’ porn sites and the legal issues surrounding them are two-fold. First, I write to give some, albeit limited, insight into the legal issues, and to document the ongoing legal cases as they develop. Second, I write to criticize those who develop or support such websites, so that public pressure — more speech — might encourage operators into shutting down their sites and deter others from starting new ones.
I wrote about one such site, which wound up being sued in a variety of federal courts and one of its operators indicted on extortion and identity theft charges. In the course of the lawsuits, the parents of one of the two primary developers/operators of the site were named as defendants. Naturally, I reported on the lawsuits and the legal predicaments faced by the developer’s parents.
The parents involved have now settled those lawsuits. In doing so, they asked two federal courts to issue a dismissal which, among other things, authorizes the parents to ask various websites — including mine — to remove public court records and references to their names.
I could be an asshole, stand on a free-speech-is-absolute principle, and point out that the courts’ orders are not binding on me because I was not a party to the proceedings and the orders don’t require me to do anything at all.
That wouldn’t serve the purpose of my writing. Little deterrence would be accomplished and the site has long since shuttered. But, I also have a responsibility to report on what has transpired, and cannot in good conscience simply erase public records from existence. So, I decided that my response would be to remove the first names of the parents from my posts, which would allow the facts to remain while minimizing the likelihood that Google would return one of my posts as the top result for the parents’ names.
When the parents contacted me, they were polite and did not attempt to make the court orders out to be more than what they were — that is, they made no demands and did not suggest I was required to do anything. They were intimidated by a confusing legal system and their livelihood was threatened by the online reputation bestowed upon them by their son’s careless behavior. Someone dedicated to learning about the litigation could still discover their names, but a basic online search will be unlikely to immediately turn up anything I’ve posted.
That, to me, strikes an appropriate balance between criticizing and documenting the acts of those who deliberately seek to harm others for profit. Reviewing the litigation history and the evidence submitted to the courts, I do not believe the parents deliberately furthered their son’s site, but were likely dumbfounded and understandably confused about what to do.
So, for the sake of transparency, their names have been removed from my posts, and I’ve privatized one of the pleadings which isn’t necessary to document the litigation history. Their son’s name should be remembered, not theirs.