Writer Stephen Elliott, one of the men named in the controversial, crowdsourced “Shitty Media Men” list, has filed a lawsuit for libel and emotional distress against its creator, Moira Donegan, asking for $1.5 million in damages.
The Google spreadsheet, which was created by Donegan in October 2017, was widely circulated in media circles, particularly among women. It encouraged anonymous users to share allegations of sexual misconduct by predatory men in media.
Faced with routine institutional dismissal and fear of professional repercussions for reporting, women in a wide variety of industries have often relied on so-called “whisper networks” to quietly share information about assault and harassment with other women. The “Shitty Media Men” list was a tangible, publicly accessible manifestation of this sort of network that quickly transcended “whispers,” went viral, and made its anonymous accusations visible to the public at large.
As Donegan noted in her subsequent essay at The Cut, “I was incredibly naïve when I made the spreadsheet. I was naïve because I did not understand the forces that would make the document go viral.”
While this may have unearthed numerous infractions that women had previously felt unable to report, the anonymous nature of the list earned it many critics as well. As Sarah Jeong noted on The Verge earlier this year:
The scope of the list was not well-defined, eventually collecting stories that ranged from incredibly violent sexual assaults to unwanted workplace overtures, a mixture of allegations that all fit the bill of “shitty” but felt, to some, a little odd to be mixed together. The worst allegations that had been reported by multiple people were highlighted in red, but many of the details were opaque: it was unclear how many women had made the same allegation, there were no time stamps, no encryption, no sealed records to return to if an investigation was ever launched ... But most obviously: once this open document went viral, it became less and less reliable.
In September 2018, Elliott published an essay titled “How an Anonymous Accusation Derailed my Life,” in which he detailed the impact of being accused of rape on the list. He says after he was named on the list, several publications canceled planned coverage of his book collection of essays, he was disinvited from several events, and his television agent stopped returning his calls. “Was this just business as usual, or had she found out about the list? I didn’t know,” he writes. In response to the essay, at least one woman spoke out publicly about alleged misconduct by Elliott.
The lawsuit indicates that Elliott plans to sue other anonymous users who contributed to the Google Doc, and subpoena Google for metadata that could identify them. “Plaintiff believes that information obtained in discovery will reveal the Jane Doe Defendants’ true names, addresses and other identifying information and allow Plaintiff to amend this Complaint to state the same,” the lawsuit says.
According to a piece published at The Cut, several of the men named by the list oppose the lawsuit. Supporters of Donegan have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for her legal fees. In a tweet posted after the announcement of the lawsuit, Donegan made it clear that she still supports the list.