The platonic ideal of internet vigilante justice (see: Anonymous holding Stuebenville accountable for the nearly covered-up rape of a teenage girl) is awesome. But there's a frightening downside: what if the accused are innocent? Even worse, what if the accusers are masquerading as do-gooders and purposefully slander the innocent in hopes of turning a profit on their misfortune?
Since U.S. laws don't hold websites accountable for the actions of its users, it's easy for sites such as Potential Prostitutes — essentially a roster of women who may "potentially" (cool modifier!) be sex workers based on anonymous accusations — to exist. And the only way for a woman to get her name off the site is to pay a fee.
Sites like these are nothing new; remember Cheaterville, where people publicly call out cheaters? But Potential Prostitutes is more disturbing than the others I've come across because it treats sex workers as if they were sex offenders — the site literally calls them "offenders." Here's how it works:
Currently we operate based on the efforts from motivated members of their local community who have at one point or another come into contact with a potential prostitute online and feel they can be a threat. All of our offenders have been reported by local members who feel these offenders should be taught a lesson before their actions escalate.
Yes, sure, prostitution is illegal practically everywhere, but how exactly is a sex worker a threat on the internet? You can't really con someone into paying for sex online. It's a pretty straightforward transaction. And, since sex workers are already vilified on the regular, the concept would be disgusting even if the women listed were all actually sex workers. Which they are not — if the founders of the site are lucky.
The site has a simpering bullshit statement thanking "our brave visitors for stepping forward to tell the world what it should already know, that exposing online prostitute discourages other potential offenders from doing the very same thing," but the fact that moderators will delete personal information if the woman pays to have it taken off — not if the accusation is false, but if she coughs up the cash — makes it clear that the site's fucked up mentality is also a farce.
The site claims it has won every case against it, but lawyer Kenneth White told Boing Boing that that's a big fat lie. "The site was registered in October 2012," he said. "It's part of the stock language such sites use."
Still, since the owner is covered under U.S. law, there's little the "potential prostitutes" listed can do other than pay up.