Ultimately, Hunter Moore was right. The man who built a name for himself by helping people use the internet to humiliate and ruin the reputations of former lovers, often laughed at predictions that he'd one day pay a big price for his actions.
Moore is one of the pioneers of revenge porn, the practice of posting nude or sexual photos of someone — typically a former lover — without their permission. His now defunct web site, IsAnyoneUp.com, hosted scores of these photos before he shut it down in April 2012. The motive of the people who posted on the site was simple: they wished to terrorize.
On Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced Moore to 30 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $2,000 fine. A punishment like this for a guy like Moore surprised and disappointed many revenge porn victims and advocates, according to Annmarie Chiarini, director of victims services at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a group dedicated to fighting revenge porn.
Moore often laughed at predictions that he'd one day pay a big price
"That's a bullshit sentence," said Chiarini, who in 2010 saw an ex-lover post intimate photos of her on eBay. "That's just a ridiculously low number of years in jail. It is some satisfaction that he's serving time but really his sentence is nothing. He's not really paying for his crimes."
The truth is Moore, 29, is paying for his crimes, only those crimes have little to do with revenge porn. Moore, who could not be reached for comment, admitted in February to paying a hacker to steal intimate photos from the email accounts of young women so he could post them to his site. He pleaded guilty to a single count each of computer hacking and identity theft. The law designed to outlaw revenge porn adopted in California, where Moore resided, was passed after he shuttered his site. Had it been around at the time, Moore might have received additional jail time. Last December, Noe Iniquez became the first person convicted under the law and was sent to prison for a year.
"That's a bullshit sentence."
It’s particularly galling because if revenge porn has a father, it's Moore. He helped show the world the broadcast power of the web and how it could be weaponized. He reveled in being what he called a "professional liferuiner."
"Somebody was gonna monetize this, and I was the person to do it," Moore said during a 2011 interview with Anderson Cooper. When Moore later tried to shift the blame to the people posting the photos, Cooper noted this didn't give him license to profit from their pics. Moore responded: "But I want to. Why wouldn't I? I get to look at naked girls all day."
In a 2012 interview with The Village Voice, Moore said: "I'm gonna sound like the most evil motherf*er — let's be real for a second: If somebody killed themselves over that? Do you know how much money I'd make? At the end of the day, I do not want anybody to hurt themselves. But if they do? Thank you for the money."
If revenge porn has a father, it's Moore
Moore was prophetic. People have indeed killed themselves, maybe not as a result from photos being posted to his site, but from revenge porn — the practice he helped popularize. In September, a girl in Kenya killed herself after a man she knew threatened to post pictures of her online. The same year, a Brazilian teenage girl hanged herself after a sex tape she participated in was posted online.
Those are the extreme cases. Much more common is for revenge porn victims to lose jobs and find themselves ostracized by co-workers, friends, and family.
"[Putting Moore behind bars] is an accomplishment in so far that this is the first successful prosecution," said Christina Gagnier, an attorney and member of the board for Without My Consent, a nonprofit privacy-protection group that works with revenge porn victims. "I think the downside is that the sentence is abominable. A two-year sentence doesn't underscore the damage that was done."
People have indeed killed themselves
Gagnier says, however, that progress is being made. In recent years, 25 US states have adopted laws that ban non-consensual pornography, and others are considering similar legislation. Some in Congress have been trying to make revenge porn a federal crime. Overseas, the number of countries that have outlawed it include Israel, the United Kingdom, and India.
Still, people who find revealing photos of themselves online continue to face plenty of obstacles to getting them removed. Maybe as many as 3,000 web sites host those types of pics, according to Chiarini. Then there is the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects web hosts from liability for material published by users, as long as they act fast by copyright owners when ordered to remove it. The law was created before revenge porn, but it offers those who traffic in that kind of material the same sort of protection as Comcast or AT&T.
Law enforcement often doesn't have the technical sophistication to enforce the laws
One of the biggest problems for victims is that law enforcement often doesn't have the technical sophistication to enforce the laws already on the books, according to Gagnier. Other times, she said they don't have the will.
"A couple of years ago," Gagnier said, "I went to a conference and this topic came up and there was a leading law enforcement official there who heard the term revenge porn and he started giggling. I sat in my seat and kind of went 'Oh crap. If law enforcement is laughing about this then we're in trouble.' That's when I knew we still had a long way to go on this issue."