Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill on what happens When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life. This is the story of a real estate agent named Monika Glennon who was the subject of a years-long harassment campaign after getting into a disagreement with a stranger on a local newspaper’s Facebook page:

There is a constellation of sites on the internet that exist solely as places for people to exorcise their demons, and more importantly, their grudges; She’s A Homewrecker is one of them. It offers the opportunity to publicize a person’s misdeeds so that they are available not just to an inner circle with access to relevant gossip but to anyone who Googles that person’s name. The terms of service specify that posts must be factually true, but if they’re not, it’s not a problem for the site. It’s protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from being sued for the things their users say. […]

Glennon wrote repeatedly to all the sites that had posted the story telling them it was false but none of them would take it down. Her only option was to go to court, so she filed a lawsuit in 2016 against John Does, alleging libel and copyright infringement, because the post used her professional headshot, which she had ownership of.

Through the suit, Glennon was able to subpoena She’s A Homewrecker and Facebook for IP addresses, as well as Internet Service Providers to find out the identities of the people behind the IP addresses. A couple of months after she filed the suit, yet another post appeared on yet another site, “Report My Ex,” written by a man claiming to be the husband who had cheated with Glennon, again luridly detailing a sex act that never happened.

Firstly, thank goodness for Facebook and its mission to connect the world more than ever before. I mean, in 1990, if you wanted to destroy a stranger’s life, you’d have to look them up in the phone book and then go make some flyers or something. Clearly, connecting more people together is an objectively benign goal, and nothing bad comes from this.

Secondly, it’s remarkable that there’s a network of sites devoted to facilitating this kind of gossip. I’m struck by the fact that the most effective legal remedy people like Glennon have is a copyright claim. What if the harassers hadn’t used her headshot?