PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – They’re sites of revenge and spite – nationally there’s TheDirty.com – and closer to home there’s Butler Trash, where anonymous users post lewd pictures and scurrilous accusations, calling their victims drug and sex addicts and worse.
“That I do drugs and other things and it couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said one victim of these sites. “None of it’s true.”
And police and prosecutors seem powerless to do anything about it.
“What’s contained on the site is offensive, but there’s nothing we can do because what’s found on the site is protected free speech,” said Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldfinger.
But that may soon change. State Sen. Jay Costa is co-sponsoring a bill that criminalizes revenge porn – the posting of sexually suggestive pictures without that person’s consent – so named because it’s generally done by a jilted lover or spouse.
“Having some of these images posted online can be harmful to the employment, harmful to their relationships and family,” said Costa. “It can be very harmful to somebody and it needs to be stopped.”
New Jersey and California have already made revenge porn a crime and a dozen other states are considering similar measures, over the objections of free speech advocates.
“This kind of invasion of privacy before the internet was not as serious a social problem, but now it’s becoming so,” Duquesne Law professor Bruce Ledewitz said.
The only remedy available to the victims is to sue in civil court for libel or slander. But even strong advocates of first amendment freedoms like Ledewitz says posting anonymous harmful accusations against private citizens is an invasion of privacy and could be considered criminal acts.
“I think the first amendment should have nothing to do with it and I think victims should be protected by the state,” Ledewitz said.
But right now, short of being sued in civil court, these anonymous users are free to ruin reputations and careers – at least until the state legislature takes action.