I felt like Will Smith in "Enemy of the State." I was being hunted, harassed and stalked by criminals with technological expertise. I had been thrust into an unexpected war. I felt exposed, vulnerable and alone on the front line. I had awoken a hideous network of villains and saboteurs, who were in pursuit of me, hoping to ruin my life. I had received creepy emails, backlash on Twitter and three death threats. My computer had been bombarded with viruses, and a technician had advised me to buy all new equipment because the malware was tough to remove.
"Also, be leery of unusual cars or vans in the neighborhood," the tech added.
"Why?" I asked.
"If someone wants to break into your computer network, he will need to be close to your house. That is, unless he has advanced skills. Then, he could gain access from anywhere."
I hurried home from the hardware store with my all-important purchase: heavy-duty padlocks. I knew I had to secure the gates at my residence, so that an intruder or a team of intruders could not access my backyard and possibly my home.
I pulled into my driveway and scanned the street, glad that the suspicious white car with the young, male driver was no longer present. It had been there on the previous evening, according to my daughter, Kayla. She'd seen it when she returned from work, and she had monitored it for several hours until it disappeared. She did not report the incident to me until the next day.
"Mom, why was there a guy in a white car, watching our house last night?"
Because she had no knowledge of the "be leery of unusual cars or vans" warning by the computer technician, I could not accuse her of paranoia.
I affixed padlocks to the gates, and the phone rang. It was like a gun. It had become a powerful way to threaten and to terrorize me. It was one of my enemy's weapons. I reluctantly picked up the receiver.
"We know where you live," a muffled male voice spoke. "Your life will be ruined." He hung up.
A caller that morning had told me I would be raped, tortured and killed. I glanced out the front window. The night had once looked innocent and peaceful, but suddenly it seemed ominous and dangerous. Then I logged onto my computer to see whether the Twitter backlash against me had ceased. It had not. But there was an odd message on my feed, which read, "Please follow me. I need to direct message you."
I did as I was instructed, and the interaction resulted in a bizarre phone call. Just as "Enemy of the State" protagonist Will Smith got aid from Gene Hackman — an off-the-grid, former government agent — I was being offered assistance.
"Don't worry. We're going to protect you. We're computer experts," were the first words uttered by a man nicknamed "Jack," who claimed to be an operative with the underground group, Anonymous.
I knew little about the famous, decentralized network of activists and hacktivists, who are sometimes called "freedom fighters" or digital Robin Hoods, so I conducted Google searches during our half-hour phone conversation.
"Jack" instructed me on how to protect my computer network and explained in detail how he and a buddy planned to electronically go after the man who had been threatening me and who had been urging his devotees to follow suit. He then uttered the name of the person who has become the most well-known online face of revenge porn: a man named Hunter Moore.
"We know Hunter and his followers have been attacking you on Twitter. We will go after him and we won't stop until he stops victimizing people," he said. (xoJane reached out to Moore to comment for this story, but received no response.)
I felt better after the call, but wondered if it had been a practical joke. Was this really the notorious group Anonymous or was I being duped? Did I have an ally or would the stalking and emotional harassment escalate into physical violence against my family? I would learn the truth within 24 hours.
Many months earlier, I was drawn into the nasty world of revenge porn. Revenge porn (RP) is the online distribution of nude and topless photos without consent in an effort to humiliate and hurt their targets, mostly females. A picture is uploaded to a revenge porn website by an angry ex-boyfriend or a malicious hacker usually with identifying information about a woman, such as her full name, city, workplace, social media page, boss' email address and parent's phone number. Followers of the RP websites then may harass the victim, often forwarding the embarrassing photo to her family members, friends and business contacts. This can lead to a loss of economic and employment opportunities, and it can strain or end a woman's personal relationships. At least two women have killed themselves over revenge porn, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative studies show that 47 percent of victims contemplate suicide.
In October 2011, my 24-year-old daughter Kayla was alone in her bedroom, emulating poses from fashion magazines. She snapped over 100 cute and sexy pictures in the mirror with her cell phone. One shot revealed her left breast. She never intended to show the pictures to anyone, but wanted to save them on her hard drive. She forwarded the entire lot from her cell phone to her email and then to her computer. Three months later on January 1, 2012, her email was hacked; and nine days after that, the photo revealing her left breast appeared on the notorious revenge porn website, Is Anyone Up? Kayla was an actress, but she was working part-time as a waitress when she got the distressing phone call.
"Kayla, I have to talk to you right now," Kayla's friend, Katie, was panic-stricken. "I'm at work in the middle of my shift. I can't talk," Kayla said
"This is really important," Katie replied. "You are…" Katie began hesitantly, knowing the news would devastate Kayla. "You are topless on a website. It is called isanyoneup.com."
Kayla was in disbelief. How was this possible? She had never given a revealing photo to anyone. She was confused; it had to be a mistake.
Kayla hung up and searched the website on her iPhone. She found the upsetting photo, along with her personally identifying information. She erupted in tears. She felt helpless, exposed, violated and vulnerable. Who had seen the picture? The site bragged of 300,000 daily visitors. Would it be saved on strangers' hard drives? Would it spread to other sites? Kayla was frantic.
During a break, Kayla phoned and uttered the four words that every mother dreads, "Something horrible happened, Mom."
I'd never heard about revenge porn prior to the call, but for many months after, I would hear about little else. I cancelled appointments, put work on hold and ignored routine tasks because a naked image rarely comes off the Internet unless someone becomes obsessed with its removal. RP website operators are consumed with what they do; therefore, anyone who hopes to prevail against them must be equally consumed.
I emailed the site owner, Hunter Moore, and asked him to take down the photo in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He refused.
I was not surprised. By this time, I'd perused Moore's online TV and newspaper interviews. He called himself a "professional life ruiner" and described his website as "pure evil." He threw legal letters in the trash, addressed his followers as "my children," taking a page from the Charles Manson handbook; and regularly taunted victims, encouraging them to commit suicide. People claimed to be afraid of him. He had no fear oflawsuits; he knew a victim would be unlikely to sue because a civil suit would cost $60,000 (according to attorney Marc Randazza), and forever link a woman's name with the image she hoped to hide.
Moore maintained that his victims were sluts, asked to be abused and deserved to lose their jobs, embarrass their families and find themselves forever ruined. Below photos on the site, his followers posted crude and mysogynistic remarks. Victims were taunted as "fat cows," "creatures with nasty teeth," "ugly whores," "white trash sluts" and "whales." One commenter said, "Jesus, someone call Greenpeace and get her back in the water." The website was not about pornography; it was about ridiculing and hurting others.
News of Kayla's topless image circulated. Her job was in jeopardy, and Kayla also feared that her conservative boyfriend would learn about the snapshot and terminate their relationship. When Kayla searched Is Anyone Up?, she made an amazing discovery: her friend Susan was also featured on the site.
"Susan never showed her photo to anyone, except her husband," Kayla informed me. "And she was hacked, too."
These words became the trigger for "Operation No Moore," my investigation of Is Anyone Up? and its site owner. I had been a private eye in the late 1980's.
Up until this point, the media had portrayed revenge porn as a platform for angry exes to take revenge on former lovers; but now I knew some sites had hacked photos. After all, I only knew about two victims, and both had been hacked by what I soon learned was the same guy. He went by the fake name, "Gary Jones."
I turned my home office into what looked like a CIA command post while Kayla, feeling depressed and defenseless, locked herself in her bedroom. My husband Charles, an attorney, was angry about how revenge porn had disrupted our household.
"The photo will just go away if you ignore it," he said, unaware that images tend to proliferate in cyberspace rather than disappear.
"That's not how the Internet works," I replied. "It would be really nice to have a lawyer's assistance."
"I don't want to be involved," he marched out of the room.
Revenge porn was a pack of wolves. It was tearing our family apart. Kayla was withdrawn. Charles was agitated, and I was obsessed. I contacted Hunter Moore's publicist, his attorney, his hosting company, his Internet Service Provider in France, some of his advertisers and his mother's former workplace at the city of Davis, where associates pressed for details about Mrs. Moore's son and his venomous website. I also registered Kayla's photo with the U.S. Copyright office and spoke to nine attorneys about copyright law, right to privacy and options for legal recourse. The consensus was that revenge porn was largely untested in the civil courts, while criminal laws were nonexistent, except in the state of New Jersey. Within days, I became an expert on revenge porn; and it was not long before lawyers were telephoning me for guidance.
Kayla and I went to the Los Angeles Police Department, where we hoped to find sympathy and an "eager to help" attitude. We found neither. A female detective from the cyber-crimes division was more interested in condescending stares and judgmental remarks than taking a report.
"Why would you take a picture like this if you didn't want it on the Internet?" the detective blasted Kayla.
When the detective went to fetch forms, I whispered to Kayla, "I'll call the FBI when we get home."
The operator at the FBI call center was not condescending or discourteous, but he also did not want to help. He said, "Just file a report online."
I knew this was code for "We are too busy with other cases and won't do a darned thing."
The man sighed as if he didn't have the energy to fight me. "Just a moment. I will transfer you to a detective."
The FBI told me that three agents would be coming to our house later in the month.
"I think they are just trying to pacify you," Charles said. "They probably won't take the case."
However, Charles changed his mind after my investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. In other words, Kayla and Susan were no longer the only hacked victims. I'd found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country, who had been violated by the same pair: Moore and "Gary Jones."
Jill was a kindergarten teacher in Kansas. I knew she was going to be posted. Moore had mentioned it on his Twitter feed — which I had been monitoring — and he asked his followers if they thought she'd get fired. They had responded with the typical landslide of loutish and smutty comments.
An hour later, her photos were visible to the world along with identifying information, including the name of the school where she taught. This was the cue for followers of Is Anyone Up? to bombard the principal and school board with Jill's naked shots and crude remarks, such as "Fire that slut" and "You have a whore teaching your children."
"Is Jill there?" I said to the school receptionist. "She's in class right now."
"I'd like to leave a message. This is urgent. Please tell her to call me when she gets time."
While I was leaving my message, the principal had marched into Jill's classroom and interrupted her lesson.
"Please gather your things and go home," he said while five-year-old students watched in wonder.
Bewildered, Jill accumulated her belongings, and as she was leaving the building, the receptionist handed her my message. She called me from the parking lot; and that is when I revealed the agonizing news.
Jill became hysterical, repeating, "Oh, my God. No. Oh, my God. No."
I was teary-eyed myself. I could feel each victim's pain, and I could imagine being in their situation. Anyone could be in their situation. It was not their fault. Making calls was depressing, and I felt like a suicide hotline. Yet, in a weird sense, it was satisfying in that I felt I was helping others. Plus, I had experience with the issue, and I could offer advice.
I gave Jill instructions on how to send take-down notices to Google and other search engines in order to de-index her name from the pictures. I told her to beef up her online presence, joining respectable websites so the disturbing pictures wouldn't appear on the first page. I told her to register the photos with the copyright office, and I told her about the FBI investigation.
"Plus, if I get my daughter's picture off the Internet, I will tell you what I did."
Tory lived in Atlanta, and her computer had been compromised by "Gary Jones." A medical image of her bloody and bandaged breasts appeared on Is Anyone Up? next to her name, workplace and a link to her Facebook page. Her nipples were fully visible.
"The photo is from my doctor's office," Tory weeped into the phone. "I'd just had surgery. How could someone do this to me?"
Tina from northern California was also a victim. She and a female friend had been documenting weight loss through photos. Some of the shots were topless. "Gary Jones" had gotten into Tina's email, nabbed the sexiest pictures, and sent them to Moore, who posted them.
"I was horrified," she told me on the phone. "I was at the drugstore and a total stranger came up to me and said 'I've seen you naked.'"
Tina had been stalked online, and she was seeing a psychologist because she no longer felt safe in the world.
Forty-year-old Cathy was divorced, and she feared losing custody of her two children. She had taken extreme measures to dodge the graphic photos depicted beside her name, city and social media links. Cathy had quit her job, changed her phone number, moved to a new town and gone back to using her maiden name. She was freaked out when I located her because she thought she'd erased all traces of her existence.
"I don't understand how you found me," she bawled into the phone. "If my ex-husband sees the photos, he will petition to take my kids away. I'm gonna lose my kids. What am I going to do? I can't lose my children."
Cathy had not been hacked; her photos had been morphed. In other words, she had never taken a nude shot. Someone had photoshopped her head with an unknown nude body in highly acrobatic and embarrassing poses. It made Cathy look like a veteran porn star.
"I've emailed Hunter Moore 20 times. He knows it isn't me, but he won't take the pictures down," she wailed. "Please help me."
Within a week, I had spoken with dozens of victims from around the country, and my findings were astonishing. A full 40 percent had been hacked only days before their photos were loaded onto Is Anyone Up? In most cases, the scam began through Facebook and ended when "Gary Jones" gained access to the victim's email account. Another 12 percent of my sample group claimed their names and faces were morphed or posted next to nude bodies that were not theirs; and 36 percent believed they were revenge porn victims in the traditional "angry ex-boyfriend sense" (although some of these folks were on good terms with their exes and thought the exes might have been hacked). Lastly, 12 percent of my sample group were "self-submits." The "self-submits," of course, are not victims at all; they are individuals who willingly sent their images to Moore. In the end, it was disturbing to realize that over half of the folks from my informal study were either criminally hacked or posted next to body parts that were not theirs.
Mandy was a special victim. If I was Sherlock Holmes, she was my Watson. She originated from Iran, had been hacked by "Gary Jones" and was as feisty as a tornado. Under her topless photo, there were posts, such as "I hope she gets stoned to death." Although Mandy was Catholic, rather than Muslim, she had highly religious relatives, who would ostracize her permanently for this sort of transgression.
At one point, while I was on the phone with Mandy, Charles decided to help us, saying, "Hunter Moore will regret the day he messed with Kayla Laws."
Mandy had never been a private eye, but she knew how to finagle information, find clues, look outside of the box and compile information for "Operation No Moore." Although she was afraid of "the most hated man on the Internet," a name the media had bestowed upon Moore, she worked tirelessly behind the scenes, helping me compile evidence for the FBI.
"He's back on Facebook," Mandy revealed. "We need to wait until he gets a few thousand friends, then pow. Kick him off."
I was in daily contact with a number of victims from Is Anyone Up? Although they felt helpless, frightened and exploited, they shared a minor joy, a feeling of power that could be exerted at will. We could kick Hunter Moore off Facebook anytime, any moment, regardless of how much effort he expended to compile "friends." This is because I had created an alliance with the executives at the popular social networking service, something that seemed quite remarkable in itself.
I had initially contacted Facebook to request that they fund a civil suit on behalf of victims. They had banned Moore from their site and sent him a legal letter because he had violated their terms of service by linking victims' photos with Facebook pages. Moore responded to their letter with a copy of his penis. He had also put a bounty on their lead attorney; in other words, he wanted nude photos of this man. Facebook executives mulled over my "civil lawsuit idea," but ultimately decided against it, thinking it would lead to a slippery slope in which everyone would ask them to finance lawsuits.
The victims and I repeatedly kicked Moore off of Facebook. He would sneak on, create a new page and tirelessly build a huge network of friends and followers. We would wait patiently. Then, I would make the all-important phone call and poof, his page would disappear. The victims would phone me, elated. Also, one person from our group knew the CEO of PayPal and got Moore banned from the e-commerce site, hindering his ability to collect donations.
It had been eight days since Kayla's topless photo first appeared online, although it felt like eons. Moore had been inundated with appeals to remove it: from me, Kayla, his advertisers, his publicist, his attorney, his website technician and his hosting company, among others.
Hunter ignored the requests, so I jacked up the intensity and moved on to "Operation No Moore Nonsense," which required Charles' assistance because we had to be ready, willing and able to sue. I contacted Jeffrey Lyon, the president of Black Lotus communications — Moore's Los Angeles-based internet security company — and asked for his help
"I need to talk to my tech guys," Jeffrey told me on the phone. "We might be able to block Kayla's page. Although it would technically still be there, no one could see it."
"That would be great," I replied. Hours later, the tech folks at Black Lotus had succeeded. However, shortly thereafter, Moore circumvented Jeffrey's efforts and maliciously created a new page for Kayla. Her topless photo was visible again, and we were back to square one.
"Maybe we should try blocking the photo instead of the page," Jeffrey said when I contacted him to report Moore's handiwork. "I will talk to my tech guys and see if it can be done. Give me a couple of days."
I thanked him and turned my efforts toward Moore's Los Angeles attorney, Reza Sina, who I had spoken with twice. He'd expressed sympathy for the victims, yet claimed to have no control over his client. My intuition told me that Reza had more control than he acknowledged. I also felt he did not take me seriously, so I figured it was time for Charles to have a stern chat with him, lawyer to lawyer.
"We have talked to the FBI," Charles revealed to Reza on the phone. "They will be coming to our house. Plus, I am walking into court and filing papers in 30 minutes if that photo is not down. Period."
Twenty minutes later, Kayla was removed from Is Anyone Up? And a few days after that, Jeffrey and his tech folks were able to block photos of other victims from our group, although it was unclear whether Moore could bypass the cyber-barrier.
Three young FBI agents from the Los Angeles Internet Crime division appeared at our door. They were professional and supportive. Unlike the LAPD detective, they never pointed an accusatory finger at Kayla or other victims. I handed them a copy of "Operation No Moore." They were astonished by the extent of my research.
"It's almost 10 inches," I said. "I have phone numbers for hacked victims all over the country."
Charles quipped, "You should hire Charlotte. Working for the FBI is her calling."
The agents agreed to take the case and spent several hours at our house, examining computers, copying files and questioning Kayla about the hacking. I told them that I had disclosed the cumbersome and detailed story to a reporter named Camille Dodero with The Village Voice because it was important to clear up misinformation. The media had been inaccurately reporting that photos on revenge porn websites stemmed from disgruntled exes. There had been no mention of hacking or photoshopping.
"Also, Hunter Moore lies about living in San Francisco," I told the FBI. "I'd like to put his home address on the Internet so victims will know how to serve him legal papers."
"I can't tell you what to do," the lead agent said. "But we would rather you not put his address out there yet, and we'd prefer The Village Voice not publish anything at this time because we don't want Moore alerted to the investigation.
"Unfortunately, he probably knows about it," I said. "We told his attorney and the president of his security company. I'd be surprised if they didn't relay the information."
I asked Camille to stall The Village Voice story, and then I phoned the Los Angeles Police Department detective to let her know that she could close her file.
The FBI agents stopped by our house for two more visits; the final one included a "victims meeting," designed to discuss the possibility of a civil lawsuit and to give the agents an opportunity to interview multiple victims in one location.
Shortly thereafter, Moore took down Is Anyone Up?, selling the domain.
The FBI raided Moore's home — or more accurately, his parent's home near Sacramento — breaking down the front door and confiscating Moore's computer, cell phone and other electronic equipment; and Camille felt compelled to move forward with The Village Voice article. Before going to press, she telephoned Moore for a statement. He went ballistic, cursing and making threats.
"Honestly, I will be fucking furious, and I will burn down fucking The Village Voice headquarters if you fucking write anything saying I have an FBI investigation," he said.
He asked who had supplied her with the FBI information, but she refused to say.
Moore soon learned it was me.
Fear entered my life. I received verbal attacks on Twitter, computer viruses and death threats. Moore publicly announced that he would relaunch Is Anyone Up? with all of the original photos, plus the site would be more insidious than before because it would include the addresses of victims along with driving directions on how to get to their homes.
This prompted me to make Moore's home address public on Twitter, which resulted in even greater backlash, the creepy guy in the white car and the odd phone call from Anonymous.
It was two hours after the Anonymous call, and I was still wondering if the whole thing had been a practical joke. Kayla was studying near the front window, and that is when she saw it for the second time.
"Mom, that white car is outside again," she yelled.
"What?" I was in disbelief. I was tired of having my family victimized. I was more furious than afraid and fully prepared for a mother-to-stalker showdown. I marched out of the front door, unsure whether I was stepping into danger.
Kayla tagged behind, yelling, "Mom? What are you going to do?"
There was a blonde, curly-haired, 20 to 30 year old kid in the white car. He was fiddling with something in his lap.
I stood in the street and yelled, "May I help you?"
He looked up at me and flew into panic mode. He quickly started his car and screeched away, almost barreling into my neighbor's stucco wall. I got five digits of his seven digit license plate.
On the following day, I learned the truth about "Jack." He was real. He was my Gene Hackman. Anonymous launched a massive technological assault on Moore, crashing his servers and publicizing much of his personal information online, including his social security number.
Moore retreated, becoming oddly quiet. He stopped speaking with the press, probably on orders from his lawyer because the FBI investigation was pending. The case is still open today.
Although Is Anyone Up? was down, I knew there were other disturbing sites and other desperate victims. I began pushing for legislation to protect victims, meeting with politicians on the state and federal level. I testified in Sacramento in favor of SB 255, an anti-revenge porn bill in California; it passed. I am hopeful that a federal law will be introduced soon.
2012 was a bizarre and difficult year. Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if Moore had removed Kayla's photo when first asked. Would his site be up today? Would Gary Jones still be hacking into emails? Would there be a pending FBI investigation? Would politicians have taken up the issue, and would there be a law in California with the possibility of federal legislation? But most of all I wonder if Charles was right.
Does Hunter Moore regret the day he messed with Kayla Laws?
This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission.