A Bronx revenge porn victim found out last December that an unauthorized video of her having sex with her boyfriend ten years before – when she was a minor – had been posted to Tumblr and shared thousands of times. In response, a Manhattan judge ordered the social networking platform to release the names of more than 500 anonymous site users who viewed or shared the video.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David Cohen handed down the first-of-its-kind ruling in June, and Tumblr has since complied with the order. The New York Post reports that Tumblr released the account information, including the users’ real names, IP addresses and email addresses, in order for the 27-year-old Bronx victim to identify and sue them for disseminating child pornography.
She was 17 years old at the time she was secretly recorded having sex with a boyfriend in the video released online that she learned of a decade later.
“The ultimate goal is to expose these people,” attorney Daniel Szalkiewicz, who represents the Bronx victim, told the Post. “There is no First Amendment protection for child porn.”
Civil Rights Groups Say Judge’s Order Is Violation Of First Amendment Rights
Tumblr, which has hosted Planned Parenthood events and often stood in public support for women’s rights groups, complied with Justice Cohen’s June 7 ruling that reads: “I’m directing Tumblr to disclose to petitioner all the account registration information concerning each individual account that re-blogged the images and videos that are at issue here.” He gave Tumblr five days to reply but legal assistance from the civil liberties group The Electronic Frontier Foundation had tried, but failed, to delay the release of the users’ account information by 14 days.
The EFF rejected the victim’s attorney claims, saying there are anonymous speech rights.
“Loss of anonymity irreparably harms speakers and discourages other speakers from exercising their own anonymous speech rights,” EFF attorney Frederic B. Jennings wrote in a July 6 letter to Justice David Cohen, obtained by the Post. “The First Amendment requires that courts afford anonymous speakers adequate time to learn that they may be unmasked so they have a meaningful opportunity to challenge those determinations.”
But Judge David Cohen declined to delay the order and Tumblr issued an ensuing warning to the blogging website’s users on June 28 that their private information would be released by July 10. Attorney Ryan Long told the Post he’s been contacted by 10 Tumblr users identified in the case who say they will have difficulty paying “a few thousand dollars” to avoid being part of any lawsuit.
“I don’t know how young she looked. I don’t know if she posted the video,” Long said. “I’m concerned about people coming forward and saying, ‘I’m going to smear your client unless you give us money.’”
The victim’s attorney, Szalkiewicz, said he’s in settlement discussions with attorneys for the users who are bargaining to keep their identities a secret. He refused to discuss the talks or any potential dollar amounts. He said she only learned of the video posted in December 2016 after men began approaching her on Facebook saying, “Did you like the way his c—k felt?” because the video featured a link to her Facebook page.
“I will tell you that the statutory penalty under the law is $100,000 an image and generally you get $100,000 in punitive damages after that,” Szalkiewicz said.
The Bronx woman said she’s happy about the judge’s ruling and hopes it serves as a deterrent to future revenge porn perpetrators.
“It’s good news. Now they can’t hide behind a computer anymore,” she told the Post. “It had a huge emotional toll on me. “I went through months when I was feeling really depressed.”
Tumblr responded to the ongoing litigation: “[Company] policy for handling requests for user data, whether compelled by a court or other legal process, make clear that we always work to protect the privacy of our users…That said, we consistently need to weigh the right to anonymous speech against the safety and security of our users, and the facts alleged in this case suggest a disregard and violation of Tumblr’s community guidelines.”