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Steady Progress for Online Harassment Laws

John Oliver takes on the issue.

Have you been congratulated on your white penis yet? If not, you should check out this segment from the latest episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver:

The clip covers the harassment of women on the Internet, the subject of Pacific Standard's January/February 2014 cover story. In fact, John Oliver even runs excerpts from interviews with Amanda Hess, the author of the Pacific Standard story.

As Oliver points out, a number of states and companies have recently made moves against online harassment, making it much easier to stop and prosecute such activity. Since 2013, 20 states have passed laws saying it's illegal to post nude photos of someone without his or her consent, a common form of harassment—called "revenge porn"—that's mostly leveraged against women. Before 2013, there were only three states with such laws. On the companies' side of things, Reddit and Twitter updated their policies in March, banning revenge porn, and Google said this month that it would remove revenge porn from search results when victims request it.

In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris has made headlines for her efforts to pursue revenge porn cases and to train police departments in proper response to cyber-harassment complaints. Her office led the prosecution against revenge-porn website operators Kevin Christopher Bollaert, who was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison, and Casey Meyering, whose case is ongoing.

On a national level, members of Congress and University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks are busy drafting the Intimate Privacy Protection Act, which would help victims of revenge porn. If passed, the bill would be a big acknowledgement of the real gravity of gender-based virtual harassment.*

As Oliver said: "Too often, you hear people play down the dangers of the Internet by saying, 'Well, relax, it's not real life' ... but it is and it always has been."


Since We Last Spoke examines the latest policy and research updates to past Pacific Standard news coverage.

*UPDATE — June 23, 2015: This article has been updated to correct an error to Mary Anne Franks' school of employment.