twitter
facebook twitter tumblr newsletter
 

Your Friends and Neighbors

still from Pipilotti Rist, I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much, 1986

“Your Friends and Neighbors” appears in The New Inquiry Magazine, Issue No. 3: Arguing the WebThe story, if you choose to believe it, is that Is Anyone Up was started in 2010 by a man named Hunter Moore. Having lost the fortune he won from a sexual-harassment settlement at a retail job, he moved to New York after putzing around in Australia, looking for a life. He did hairstyling for porn stars and lived in misery. “I’d never been so close to killing myself before,” Moore told The Awl in November. “I had no money and was in serious debt. I went from the highest point of my life to the lowest, I just fucked up. No one that age should get that much money.”

Moore’s idea was that Is Anyone Up could be a travel and nightlife blog. It would detail places he had been to and the bullshit he would do — a Tucker Max–style catalog of debauchery. Like a lot of blogs, it went dormant. Then one night a friend convinced him to upload a picture of a girl he’d been sleeping with. Other of Moore’s friends started uploading too and, this being the Internet, someone from a message board came across it. Moore later checked the stats and discovered the site had suddenly gotten 14,000 hits.

Somewhere along the way, screenshots of Facebook profiles were thrown into the mix, and the terrible beast of identity porn was born. It’s no longer enough of a turn-on to merely see someone naked; late capitalism’s porn industry has taken revealing our bodies as far as it can go. In the social-media era, the kinkiest thing you can do is turn a porn site into a phone book.

***

Is Anyone Up works like this: You have naked photos of somebody you know. It’s likely someone you’ve slept with and no longer see, though not necessarily; sometimes people trade nudes among themselves. Submitters must click through a brief contract confirming they aren’t uploading childporn. Required: The name and location of the person in the images. Not required: Their consent.

Most Is Anyone Up postings have a kind of narrative rhythm. It starts with a screen grab of a Facebook profile, some clothed pics, and then the incriminating photos, all finished off with “the reaction shot” — an animated .gif of someone groaning or giving a thumbs-up. One particular set of photos was uploaded with the title, “Am I the only one who might fuck this sober?” From among the site’s numerous visitors, more than a dozen commenters have given rulings so far. (Men also get posted on the site. They tend to attract fewer comments, often gay-bashing ones.)

Is Anyone Up is at least partially protected by the Communications Decency Act, which shields Moore from lawsuits over user-submitted content. As other observers have commented, attorneys could argue Is Anyone Up generates its own content by adding Facebook screenshots to the nude-photo submissionsor that the site exists solely to invade privacy and inflict emotional distress, but none of these argumentsappear to have been attempted in court. Whether Moore takes down photos when asked is a matter of much debate. Moore says he does, which — if it held up in court — would create an uncomfortable world of semi-consent: Since the people on Is Anyone Up likely allowed their naked photos to be taken in the first place in a far different context and can theoretically have them removed from the site, their consent over publication doesn’t matter, and they would be presumed to be implicitly okay with the exposure —even though they have no power over the exchang eor publication of their images.

Regardless, many photos stay up, some presumably by choice. For his Awl article about Moore, Danny Gold interviewed a young woman dubbed “Sasha” who met her boyfriend over the site after posting nudes of others and eventually getting posted herself. She received a wave of attention on Facebook and was initially hurt by insults. “Now I’m a little flattered by all the new attention and I really enjoy the new company from all these guys and gals,” she said. “It makes me feel like a mini-celeb.”

Mini-celebrity is the right term for this phenomenon — the democratization of what happened with Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton’s sex tapes minus the chance of actually becoming a real maxi-celebrity. Identity porn begins with celebrities, of course, because that’s where the clicks are. In principle, Is Anyone Up does the same thing Gawker did when it published hacked nudes of Olivia Munn; it’s just a downmarket version. This is the way of creative destruction on the Internet: a medium’s walls are lowered so far that anyone can enter, andthe market becomes flooded with user-generated content. Call it pauperazzi.

Is Anyone Up converges sexual exhibitionism, relationship hostility, and the modern cult of social-media celebrity. The more people participate, the less valuable each body becomes, and the more profitable it is for the guy who’s figured it all out. Moore says he’s made up to $13,000 a month on the site and has hired a team to help him run it. Participants, whether they wanted to participate or not, are compensated only in the pseudocurrency of new followers on social media.

When Moore appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show in November, Moore said the purpose of Is Anyone Up was “to get the information out.” When two women on the show confronted him about publishing their photos on the site, he told them, “No one put a gun to your head and made you take these pictures. It’s 2011. Everything’s on the Internet.”

Though Cooper may have had him on in an attempt to shame him, the appearance boosted Moore’s pageviews. “The Anderson Cooper thing got me lots of weird, normal college students on the site,” Moore later told the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. His site’s posts used to center around groupies and musicians in the indie rock scene. Post-Cooper, the site went mainstream. The Twitter feeds of two women who had been exposed on the site are revelatory: They met their involuntary digital exhibitionism with the equivalent of a shrug. As Moore told the Awl, “Once you’re on page two, nobody gives a fuck anymore.”

Except that’s a lie.

***

“I call it cyber rape,” says Charlotte Laws, a Valley Glen, California, real estate agent, local politician, animal-rights activist, and former private investigator. She says she knows a few people who have been posted on Is Anyone Up and has spoken with at least a dozen more. One is an executive at a large corporation. A few were teachers, one of whom Laws says lost her job. “Basically what they do is gointo a fetal position, and it’s very hard for them to fight back against Hunter Moore and the website because they feel like they’ve been raped,” Laws says.“Doing something is very hard anyway because Mr. Moore almost never takes anyone down. It’s almost impossible.”

G. (real name withheld) was a one time varsity cheerleader before enrolling at a Southern state university. The top two hits for her name on Google are Internet message boards urging everybody, Come look at this slut. The link, before it went dead, led to photos she’d taken of herself that were posted on Is Anyone Up. One commenter replied with a rumor that she had quit her job at a Christian highschool after the photos went online. G., or someone purporting to be her, responded, swearing to sue. But it didn’t work out that way.

G. did become the sole person on record to file any kind of legal action against Moore in federal court, but she didn’t actually sue him. It was only a subpoena. After Moore took down her photos, her attorneys wanted more information about who sent G.’s photos as evidence for a copyright infringement suit. According to court documents, Is Anyone Up received 10 photos from a Yahoo email address that no longer exists (if it ever did). This person gave no other information other than G.’s name, hometown, and Facebook page.

G. also subpoenaed Facebook. On the same day Is Anyone Up posted the photos of her, someone from the same IP address used to send the photos to Moore hacked into the Facebook account of J., a friend of G.’s. The hacker posted the photos and chatted with several of J.’s Facebook friends, according to court documents. From there, G.’sattorneys subpoenaed AT&T for the identity ofthe IP holder.

What happened after that, I wasn’t able to find out. G., J. and the attorneys representing them wouldn’t talk. Any justice delivered would be far more private than the acts that prompted it — perhaps by design.

“A lot of people are afraid of Hunter Moore, and they’re scared of him and his cronies, and they don’t want their names further trashed,” Laws says. “It’s called the ‘Barbra Streisand effect.’ You file a lawsuit, and suddenly your name is 20 times bigger and you get dragged through the mud.

”That is, if you can even afford it. Charlotte Laws said victims have spoken of legal fees reaching $70,000 — all to fight a vindictive guy who may not have much money in the first place. Two people I spoke with for this article were scared to give their names because they were worried about what Hunter Moore might do.

***

Existing law protects our property, but in the U.S., it has done little to protect us from shame. Strange and cold is the law under which a woman whose photos have apparently been stolen and posted against her will has to claim copyright to defend herself. The language of ownership were the only words that ultimately meant anything when G’s attorneys presented their Facebook subpoena. When asked about the site’s stance on Is Anyone Up, a Facebook spokesman said only, “Protecting the people who use Facebook is a top priority and we will take action against those who violate our terms.”

Facebook has good reason to resent Hunter Moore. He represents one of the few times the digital hegemon can’t seem to get what it wants. The company revoked Moore’s profile and his license to use Facebook buttons on his site with a scathing cease-and-desist letter that excommunicated Is Anyone Up from Facebook in December. It demanded Moore stop harassing its members. “If you ignore this letter, Facebook will take whatever measures it believes are necessary to enforce its rights, maintain the quality of its site, and protect its users,” Joseph P. Cutler, an outside counsel for Facebook, wrote to Moore.

“I replied with a picture of my dick,” Moore told Gawker. His site thrived like some kind of barbarian village just outside Facebook’s Roman frontier, making raids the empire could’t seem to stop and over which the law had no application.

But Moore was afraid of at least one thing: the 18th birthday. He’s repeatedly sworn that his site made every effort to screen the anonymous submissions for people under 18. A screen grab of a Facebook profile for a man named Ryan G. hovered over the submissions page of Is Anyone Up, mounted atop a list of rules like a head on a pike, accompanied by the warning, “He submitted underage content, will you be replacing him here?”

But did he? On July 13, Moore posted G.’s photo to the site. Moore called him a pedophile, saying he’d submitted underage photos with a “tampered with time stamp.” It was G.’s ex, a model in Los Angeles who likes to tweet about her shoots and smoking pot. Moore reposted the supposedly underage photos with her private parts airbrushed out, naming her and reposting her Facebook and Twitter contacts. “I have a zero tolerance for anything submitted that is underage to be on my site,” he wrote.

Except the model is 21 years old, according to her Facebook profile, and may have been 19 when the photos were taken.

When contacted, Ryan G., 25, was eager to tell his side of the story. He said he’d dated the woman for four years and freely admitted sending out nudes of her when the two broke up — to 30 or 40 people, straight down his AIM chat list. “I even sent them to her dad, which was messed up, and I’m sure he remembers it like it was yesterday,” he told me. “It’s not something I’m not necessarily proud of, but it’s also not something that makes me a pedophile.”

He also swears that he never submitted photos to Moore. A phone call between Moore and the purportedly underage model was recorded and uploaded anonymously to Vimeo. In it, Moore says that G. and another man submitted photos of her to the site and that they’d faked the time stamps on the photos to make it appear she was older than 18. “I hope you’re not recording this,” Moore says to the model, twice.

G. forwarded me the original email he says his ex sent him that contained some of the photos, the dates of which would make her 19 at the time. He also said she didn’t have some of the furniture in the photo until she was 19. (She didn’t confirm these details; like many people I contacted for this story, she didn’t respond.).

Because of Is Anyone Up’s accusations, G. says he lost his job and received probably more than a thous and threatening phone calls, text messages, emails, and Facebook messages. “I’m cool with it now, but for a long time, it was really messing with me mentally,” he says, with a faint Georgian accent. “I’d have people telling me to shoot myself, to kill myself.”

***

Moore might seem like a product of radical Millennial connectivity, but what he’s doing isn’t new at all. In his 1975 novel The History of Man, Malcolm Bradbury satirized a radical sociology professor who didn’t believe in privacy. “Democratic society is giving us total access to everything,” the leftist professor writes in a book, to be called The Defeat of Privacy, a precursor to today’s advocates of radical transparency. “There’s nothing that’s not confrontable. There are no concealments any longer, no mysterious dark places of the soul. We’re all right there in front of the entire audience of the universe, in a state of exposure. We’re all nude and available.”

Ask an average person on the street (or someone in Anderson Cooper’s studio audience) and they’ll probably tell you Moore is acting immorally because he has no regard for consent. When he blames people for taking naked photos of themselves that end up getting published, his logic is not much different from saying women who walk down dark alleys are asking to get attacked.

But this commonsense reaction is underpinned by some problematic assumptions. The biggest is that our notions of privacy are neither logical nor consistent. We may understand that it’s wrong to pass along naked photos of someone we know, but we feel freer to talk about who they’ve slept with, which can be just as damaging.

Radical-transparency advocates might claim that the real problem is with our cultural association of shame with sexual behavior and the body that humiliates those who don’t conform. Whereas Is Anyone Up features the bodies of regular people in regular-looking rooms and then identifies them as real, ordinary. They live on your street. When they take their clothes off, they’re just as embarrassing and weird and sexy and kinky as you. A society where we’re more comfortable and transparent about our bodies is a better society, and arguably, Is Anyone Up contributes to that project.

Which sounds great — except Is Anyone Up is doing it wrong. The point of Bradbury’s satire was that people still like their privacy even when the idea of it doesn’t make sense. Though norms may change, consent is never irrelevant.

***

When I contacted Moore through the Is Anyone Up Gmail account, an earnest-seeming personal assistant responded. “Would happy (sic) to arrange a time to speak with Hunter,” the assistant, who goes by Just Jay, wrote. “Can you do interviews later in the day/evening/night PST? Would you like tointerview via phone/skype etc?”

That night, I Skype-chatted with Moore to set up an interview. I told him I’d recently come across the site. “i bet your penis thanked you,” he said. I asked him when he wanted to talk. “wh0t i get,” he replied. Was he asking if he’d get paid for the interview?

He didn’t answer when I asked him what he meant. Moore restricted his contact with me to chat and email. A phone interview never happened. Moore later emailed that he receives “underage/death/animal harm submissions” “every day,” and never explained how he can confirm whether someone’s 18. His responses tended toward the terse and incomprehensible. Soon he stopped replying at all.

He wouldn’t give straight answers about the Ryan G. incident. In the recorded phone call online, he said he had the model’s birth date and that she had been featured on the site before, but in his messages with me, he wouldn’t clear up what he’d meant by that. I also asked him why he kept asking her whether she was recording the conversation. “Because i didn’t want to be recorded,” he wrote, without elaborating.

In what happened with G., in the worst-case scenario, Moore may have published child pornography; in the best, he probably libeled a man who distributed photos of his ex-girlfriend to dozens of people. It says something about Hunter Moore that he lives in a world where the distinction between pedophile and mere sociopath is not only significant but existential, and even the friendliest rationalization in the world couldn’t explain away the fact that Moore hurt people for money.

“Many people have cried into phones to me, and many people didn’t know they were on the site until I called them,” said Charlotte Laws, the advocate. “They feel very alone, and they don’t really have anyone to talk to. They don’t want their families to know, their friends to know.”

But it’s too late.Support The New Inquiry. Subscribe to TNI Magazine for $2

Epilogue: On April 19, Hunter Moore shut down Is Anyone Up for good. The site’s URL redirected to a long essay from Moore on anti-bullying site Bullyville.com explaining that he’d gotten tired of reporting all the underaged submissions and that things were too “shady.”

“I’ve become friends with the founder of BullyVille, CupidVille, CheaterVille and KarmaVille and he helped me realize that my talents in the programming and social networking world could be channeled in a positive way and we spoke about ways to move on, which is ultimately what I’ve decided to do,” he wrote. “I might do some writing on bullyville.com to help people who have been bullied; I’ve been on both sides of the fence. … I think it’s important that everyone realizes the damage that online bullying can cause.”

He should know. Just a couple hours before announcing the end of the site on Twitter, he tweeted, “ill fuck everyone you know and get them pregnant and lie about you and you’ll still be on my dick because i have hella followers on twitter.”

R.I.P. Is Anyone Up. It may yet live on in spirit.

Previously by