Last week a San Diego court convicted 28 year-old Kevin Bollaert of 27 felony charges including identity theft and extortion for running multiple revenge porn websites. He could face up to 20 years in prison. Here’s how the sites worked: people would post nude photos of their former lovers (often with the victim’s name, city, and a link to their Facebook profile) and the victims could get the images removed, if they paid a fee. These sites have since been taken down.
Prosecutors described Bollaert’s sites as a business based on blackmail. At the trial, several victims testified that they were humiliated and faced other repercussions because their images were posted on these sites without their consent. This appears to be the first conviction for an operator of a revenge porn website, but hopefully it will not be the last. The article did not state whether any of the people who posted the revenge porn images in question have also faced criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
This case should serve as a warning to anyone who is operating a similar website. If you encourage people to post revenge porn and charging the people in the images to get them removed, there is now legal president that this is a type of extortion.
This is also a legal gray area. It’s one thing to create a platform where people can post images and stories on your site, activities that are often protected by the First Amendment and copyright laws; but the person creating the posts could cross the line into invasion of privacy, cyberharassment, and revenge porn depending on the material posted. Depending on the circumstances, the owner of the site could also face criminal or civil liability, but often times simply providing a platform is not enough to hold the site’s owner responsible for what other’s posts unless there is additional evidence that implicates them.
I’ve been getting more questions recently about people who are being threatened with revenge porn where the image or video hasn’t been posted yet. Sometimes I’m unsure if it’s a situation where the would-be poster is saying, “I’m going to post your nude photos online” or trying to use the images as way to manipulate the person by saying, “If you don’t do XYZ, I’m going to post your nude photos online.” I’m conversing with the Phoenix Police Department about this issue to better advise my clients who are in this situation.
If you suspect you’re the victim of revenge porn, call your local law enforcement agency. I do not blame the victims in these situations, but I caution people, especially young people to think before they create or send sexually explicit material. If any of this content is released on the internet, you have no control over who might see it, share it, download it and even if you can get the original removed, it could still be out there on other sites. When in doubt, don’t send naked selfies, take intimate photos in the bedroom, or create sex videos. If you’re thinking about posting revenge porn, don’t.