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Online porn hoaxes not just celebs' problem; it can happen to you, too

Four4Four: It's a scary world! Everyday women have lives ruined when they show up in porn they didn't make

 

In July a friend told me my name was being used in a series of explicit hardcore porn videos available on the Internet. I Googled the title of the videos and was horrified to see my name and likeness – in this case an adult entertainer who BEARS a resemblance to me -- appearing in a handful of videos.

Now, I had to live with my name being associated with disgusting videos I had no part in. Worst yet, my friend told me her mother saw the link, and thought it was really me. My head began to spin. What if my co-workers saw this? Would this ruin my professional reputation? What if random strangers began to associate me with something so sordid? I wanted to shout, “It’s not me!” 

I found myself thinking about trying to defend myself online against something I never did. And what did I get in return? A series of lewd, nausea-inducing comments, and even a separate blog claiming that I’m secretly a porn star. 

I felt powerless. So I started to do some research into how to stop it, and found I was not alone – not even close.

Celebrities Jessica Alba, Emma Watson, and Katy Perry all have porn videos starring “lookalikes.” But even more alarming, I discovered women who aren’t even remotely famous have had their private photos stolen from social media sites and personal blogs, photoshopped into porn images, and posted on porn sites. Even with privacy settings, hackers are able to access the woman-next-door’s images, making each of us, public figure or not, completely vulnerable.

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Dana Perkins, a family photographer based in Texas, is another victim of non-consensual pornography. Her images were not photoshopped. Instead nude photos of someone who looks like her were put on a porn site, her Facebook Business page, and a personal blog. The perpetrator listed her personal information, including the name of her company, her marital status, who she was married to, and where her children went to school, via a screencapture of her Facebook page. The person who posted the shots said it was her, and made disgusting sexual comments. According to Perkins, she was harassed, emailed by strangers and called a "slut." 

She also nearly lost her business.

“It was a horrible violation to my integrity. As a child and family photographer, I make my living on how my clients’ perceive me, so for them they need to know I’m upstanding and this was not a representation of me,” she said.

The experience has had a lasting psychological impact on the wife and mother.

“I was paranoid for a long time…scared for my safety,” she said. “I have a very hard time trusting now.”

Perkins filed a police report, but because she wasn’t physically harmed or directly threatened, no action was taken. To this day, Perkins does not know who posted her information.

Utah-based arts and crafts blogger Melissa Esplin had a similar experience. Her head was photoshopped onto the body of a naked woman, which she discovered after receiving lewd messages from strangers on Twitter and Facebook. It turned out the images had been posted on a revenge porn site overseas with the mother of three’s name and social media handles included. 

“The impact the revenge porn had on my life was more of an emotional, psychological one,” he said. “ Even though the offender only posted my info and headshots next to someone else's body as me, I still felt like my privacy had been violated.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but Esplin also credits her social media footprint for protecting her reputation.

“By being active over the last eight years online with things like my blog, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, that backlog of content helped protect my online presence. I've heard so many parents and women tell me that they're deleting Facebook/blog/Instagram accounts after hearing about what I went through. I tell them all the same thing: Don't do that!! Keep posting!” she said. “Tell the world who you really are so if something like that ever happens, you'll have the high ground.”

Esplin’s tip is helpful since the “good,” correct information will come up first on a search engine, pushing porn sites back further.

Presently, the FBI is investigating Esplin’s complaint.

Anti-revenge porn advocate Dr. Charlotte Laws offers these tips for how women can protect themselves.

1. Keep copies of all photos of yourself. Should a photoshopped picture emerge, you will be in a better position if you have a copy of the headshot that was used in the "fake nude." Not only can you prove to your boss, parents and others that the headshot was manipulated, you can legally demand that websites remove her image because you own the copyright of the face. 

2. You should ask family and friends (who may have taken the photos) to turn over copyright ownership of your image. Again in the absence of criminal laws protecting victims from morphed porn and revenge porn, the Digital Millennium Copyright  Act is the best tool for getting compromising images removed from the Internet. If a woman owns the image or part of a "compiled image," she can send takedown notices to hosting companies, websites and search engines. The reputable sites will comply with her request. If they don't, she can file a lawsuit and win up to $250,000 per image. 

3. You should put a Google alert on your name and keep copies of all online evidence of the morphed porn. This includes screen shots, names, comments, links and dates. Preserving evidence is important for law enforcement should it turn into a criminal investigation. This evidence could also be used in a civil proceeding.

I’m currently working with a lawyer to help track down the server of the videos using my name, and what I’m learning is not promising. If the servers hosting the videos are overseas, the chances of getting these videos removed are slim, and if the host is in the United States, it could still take months or even years. Plus even if you can fight it, lawyers don’t come cheap, with retainer fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

It all leaves me bitter. I have to undo something I never did. It’s one thing to take responsibility for your actions, yet to be responsible for the actions of anonymous cyber trolls is another. Unfortunately, the Internet is still like the Wild West, and the rules are being written as we go. For every law that may be in the works, there’s another victim fighting to get her reputation back.

Fox News.com Reporter and FOX411 host Diana Falzone covers celebrity news and interviews some of today's top celebrities and newsmakers.  You can follow her on Twitter @dianafalzone.

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