If ever there was a no-brainer appropriate for the skill level of the empty noggins in Albany, it was the bill to ban revenge porn.
If someone posts online a nude picture of you without your consent for the world to dissect and ridicule and beat their chests over, it obviously ought to be a criminal offense in this state.
Yet a bill proposing to make the posting of revenge porn a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in prison has been languishing in Albany since 2013. This month, the legislators again went home for the summer without acting on it.
Guess who’s behind this nauseating course of nonaction?
That’s right, the Internet’s great champion of feminism — hey, don’t they make an effort to be inclusive when picking the Google Doodle every day? — is doing little to stop the revolting daily public humiliation of women.
Women like Lisa M. of Gardner, Mass., who was just 17 when her then-boyfriend managed to sneak topless pictures of her without her even noticing, much less approving. He then humiliated her by posting the pictures to a shadowy Panama-based site infamous for its galleries of revenge porn.
Some of those pictures are posted under categories like “drunk/passed out” or “peeping toms.” Every man in America should be enraged by this. How can you possibly condone the sexual victimization of women at their most intimate and vulnerable? If it were your daughter, wife, sister or mom, you’d be looking for your shotgun. But finding the actual source of these photos is a frustrating undertaking because of the layers of cloaking devised by the sites that host them.
The New York bill passed the Democratic-run state Assembly unanimously Tuesday, and Gov. Cuomo pledged to sign it. But then the Republican-controlled state Senate took no action. Lawyer Carrie Goldberg, a leading advocate for the law, blames Google for gumming up the works behind the scenes: “They hate the civil-law language that allows judges to order them to remove content.”
Google is keeping mum about what’s going on. Contacted by Gizmodo on Friday, its PR department declined to comment on the legislation and instead pointed to (exceedingly weak) language on its site that offers revenge-porn victims an opportunity to request that Google remove links to sites hosting the pictures.
Mary Anne Franks, another lawyer trying to get the bill passed, told Gizmodo that the machinations have already diluted it so much that “practically the only people who have anything to fear from this bill are those who not only publish naked photos of a person without permission, but also make a formal announcement that they are intending to harm that person by doing so.”
Revenge-porn laws are in effect in 40 states, and New York City’s separate law went into effect this past winter, meaning someone who posts such images while in the five boroughs can be prosecuted. That kind of patchwork approach adds another layer of complexity to an already-maddening problem. What’s needed is a federal revenge-porn law.
Why hasn’t that passed yet? Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, has been working on it for years and by 2016 had even managed to get Facebook and Twitter to support it. Google is “staying neutral,” reported The Hill. Neutral? On whether it should be legal for your ex-boyfriend to post your nude photos for his frat bros to ridicule?
Google’s power is becoming an issue in Washington. Last year, its parent company, Alphabet, not only spent more on lobbying than any tech company, it spent $18 million, more than any tech outfit going back at least two decades. Without Google’s backing, it’s hard to see the federal revenge-porn law happening.
Google is, in effect, a monopoly, with 80 percent of all search traffic going through its site. Together with Facebook, it controls 85 percent of the online advertising market. The country’s most infamous monopoly, Standard Oil, controlled 70 percent of oil refining in the US in 1906, the year it was sued by Teddy Roosevelt’s Justice Department. Google uses its power to crush other companies, to downplay sites it finds uncongenial — in short, to make a mockery of its onetime motto, “Don’t be evil.”
For instance, the Web site of Getty Images complained that its traffic fell 85 percent after Google made Getty’s pictures visible on its own site. Getty’s general counsel, Yoko Miyashita, told The New York Times Magazine that Google’s response was, “Well, if you don’t agree to these terms, we’ll just exclude you.” That isn’t really an option, the lawyer added, because “if you aren’t on Google, you basically don’t exist.”
True, and a lot of women of whom intimate photos exist would love it if Google could help make them disappear. Google has the power to protect women against revenge porn by backing the federal and New York state measures to illegalize it. “Staying neutral” means allowing the disgusting status quo of revenge porn to continue.
Kyle Smith is an absolutely brilliant critic-at-large at National Review