An online sex `experiment' hits a nerve in blogosphere

On Blogs

September 17, 2006|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

Here's yet another cautionary tale for the Internet age.

For reasons not quite clear, a Seattle-based graphic designer named Jason Fortuny conducted a twisted social experiment recently by posting a bogus hard-core personal ad on craigslist.com, the popular online classified site.

"Our Goal: posing as a submissive woman looking for an aggressive dom, how many responses can we get in 24 hours?" Fortuny wrote of his experiment.

Fortuny's fake ad sought out men for sexual encounters, and responses came back almost instantly - "178 responses, with 145 photos of men in various states of undress," he wrote.

Along with pictures of their genitalia, some men included personal and business e-mail addresses, full names, instant message screen names and telephone numbers.

It wasn't the wisest of moves on their part. And Fortuny sought to make them suffer.

He took every scrap of information - names, photos, addresses and all - and posted it verbatim online and asked readers of his LiveJournal site to start outing the men.

Once the scheme became apparent, many of the men begged Fortuny to remove their information, but Fortuny responded with mocking contempt.

One outed solicitor, for example, claimed to be in a discreet-yet-open marriage and offered to supply Fortuny with his wife's phone number so Fortuny could confirm that the wife was indeed OK with her husband's actions. But Fortuny derisively dismissed the idea: "Yes, I'm sure you will give me the number of one of your skanks-on-the-side who will profess to being your wife. But, if you think it will help, you can certainly post a number here."

Keep in mind that while the respondents to Fortuny's ad appeared to be a largely pathetic, desperate and sad lot, they appeared to not be breaking any laws - a distinction that many people across the blogosphere were quick to point out as news spread about Fortuny's experiment. His choice to launch a public assault against people's private sex lives - regardless of how deviant or kinky - hit a very raw nerve among many bloggers.

"As a woman and human being I am appalled that this Jason guy felt the need to [mess] with others lives in this way! He deserves a long lonely miserable life in hell," wrote a commenter on Waxy.org, one of the first blogs to take notice of Fortuny's actions.

"The point of the whole `prank' was to shame and humiliate other people and to let Fortuny and his LiveJournal hangers-on feel intellectually and morally superior - e.g. the victims are `perverts' who aren't smart enough to know how use the internet anonymously," wrote Ryan Singel on his Wired News blog.

Some irate bloggers took it upon themselves to "out" Fortuny and post as much personal information about him online as they could find. Others wondered whether Fortuny broke any privacy laws (the short answer is: probably not). And at least one person posted threats against Fortuny on his LiveJournal page.

In other words, it's an all-around mess.

"For what it's worth, I think what Jason Fortuny did is shameful and wrong in the extreme," wrote Xeni Jardan on Boing Boing. "But one obvious moral to this tale: Your private information is as intimate as your private parts. There are serious risks to sharing either with strangers you bump into online."

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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