Beware the Porn Trolls

By Kelly Bourdet

This article originally ran at Motherboard.

If your ex hates you, Hunter Moore is ready and willing to ruin your life. With isanyoneup.com, he’s become the Larry Flint of revenge pornography, inviting spurned lovers to send over any nude photos of exes and publishing them, along with personal information and a Facebook profile page screenshot, on his site. Cue a cover story in the Village Voice (in which he claims he doesn’t care if he drives people to suicide), and hundreds of internet trolls, who will savagely berate your ex on their breasts or body or penis size. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of posts on the site are of women.

The web is filled with useful things: information, opinions, memes, social networks, video, pornography. But on top of all the sharing, educating, creating and masturbating, the Internet has had another defining purpose almost from its inception: trolling.

Trolls are everywhere, from the top-voted comment on YouTube (the elegant and thoughtful variation on “this is gayer than gay porn”) to my personal Facebook profile. I can post anything, from a picture of my trip to the Bronx Zoo to an update on my vacation, and, invariably, at least one comment drips with sarcasm and mocks the picture and/or its subject (most often me). And that’s from some of my best friends. Sure, I probably have more trolls in my friend circle than the average person. I often write about technology and have a disproportionate number of computer programmers (the worst trolls) as online friends. And I troll right back, at the risk of undercutting sincere and genuine moments, or whatever that means on Facebook.

A sampling of the comments on Is Anyone Up? Yeah, people aren’t too nice

It’s obvious that the internet is a kind of incubator for the worst aspects of humanity. Under the cover of an anonymous handle, we can, and do, say the worst things imaginable; we mock and humiliate strangers with impunity. The internet is also a well-known safe space for pornography. Hunter Moore’s evil stroke of genius was in combining the two. Adding personal information is the not-so-secret sauce. Suddenly, you’re not just insulting some random stranger. You’re insulting a stranger whose last name and cell phone number you now know. You can see her Facebook profile. You can see where she goes to college and who her sister is and what nu metal band she’s into.

Trolling can take many forms, some simply annoying and harmless, but the trolling that takes place on Moore’s site is more closely related to cyber-bullying. You can view the site, and the anonymous comments on the “revenge porn,” at your own risk. Suffice it to say, there aren’t many words of encouragement or flattery up there, though there’s a lot of commentary on women’s bodies, women’s “busted” faces, and overwhelming repetition of the phrase, “paper bag her head” (you know, so you can have sex with a woman without having to look at her “busted” face). Though trolling and cyber-bullying aren’t exclusive to women and their bodies – there’s ample racist and homophobic troll content online – Moore’s site tends to stick to the trope of shaming women (and a few men) for their provocative photos.

What’s especially sinister is the specificity of the targets. For some people, the idea of actually insulting a real person, of actually ruining his or her life (for some period of time) is the enticement. The internet provides a medium in which rapid consumption results in rapid desensitisation. So, we keep upping the ante, looking for another envelope to push. Pornography gets more violent. Trolling gets more violent. The violent intrusion into an ordinary person’s private sexual sphere gets so transgressive that it’s practically inhuman.

But to Hunter Moore and anyone else running a site that draws trolls, it’s also money. Moore tells the Voice that if someone killed themselves as a result of appearing on isanyoneup.com, the hate he would receive would be overwhelming. But hate, like any attention, can be monetised on the internet: “The more traffic I’d have that day, I’m going to get paid for. So if someone fucking killed themselves? Do you know how much hate I’d get? All the Googling, all the redirects, all, like, the press…”

It’s reductive to say that trolling comes out of a desire to assuage feelings of poor self-esteem by battering down a stranger under the protection of anonymity. But that doesn’t make that statement untrue. It’s a desire to expose someone for being something other than what they portray themselves as. It’s an outlet for the violence that many people corral within themselves. And when our culture defines sexual intimacy and provocative, sexualised images as the most personal of all aspects of a person – when, often, the worst way to insult a woman is to call her a slut – then we may have reached new terrain in personal brutality.

And yet, revenge porn might also be more of a throwback than it first appears. Often, someone will upload some content to the internet, maybe on youtube, and trolls will accuse the person of being gay or ugly or use any number of insults. On isanyoneup.com, the photographs, and the trolling that they inspire, are framed as a kind of punishment – for being promiscuous, or for being sexual at all. Because they cheated or because their ex is disgruntled or because they were naive enough to trust someone with explicit sexual images of themselves, these “whores” and “sluts” are getting what they deserve. And because the site is mostly populated with women, and our ideas of women still follow a sexual binary of “good” or “bad,” Moore’s site is, in a way, old fashioned. It’s a perverse way of reinforcing Victorian ideas about women’s propriety. Don’t be bad girls, girls. You don’t want to end up naked on the Internet.

Follow Kelly Bourdet on Twitter

This article originally ran at Motherboard.

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