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      Peter Thiel ties his Gawker crusade to a revenge porn bill, but advocates are skeptical

      Peter Thiel ties his Gawker crusade to a revenge porn bill, but advocates are skeptical Peter Thiel ties his Gawker crusade to a revenge porn bill, but advocates are skeptical Peter Thiel ties his Gawker crusade to a revenge porn bill, but advocates are skeptical
      Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel addresses delegates on the fourth and final day of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH, on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa via AP Images)

      Crime & Drugs

      Peter Thiel ties his Gawker crusade to a revenge porn bill, but advocates are skeptical

      By Noah Kulwin

      Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire behind the lawsuit that buried Gawker Media under a $140 million verdict, tied his campaign to a broader defense of privacy in a New York Times op-ed published Monday. He also tied it to some legislation few had heard of, a so-called "Gawker Bill" moving through Congress.

      The legislation he's referring to, the Intimate Privacy Protection Act, largely deals with so-called "revenge porn," or the non-consensual release of sexually explicit material. It's a bill also supported by Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other Silicon Valley internet powers concerned specifically about the "revenge porn" problem.

      So some expressed surprise Tuesday that Thiel appeared to attempt to re-christen the proposed law as the "Gawker Bill," since the bill itself has nothing to do with the media, or with former wrestler Hulk Hogan's case against Gawker, which Thiel bankrolled. Indeed multiple people who worked on the legislation itself attempted to put distance between themselves and Thiel in interviews with Vice News.

      "I was frankly surprised to see Thiel attempt to closely associate IPPA [the Intimate Privacy Protection Act] with the Gawker case," University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks said over email. Franks specializes in law related to online abuse, and has worked with lawmakers on drafting IPPA over the past couple years.

      "While I was aware of the Gawker litigation, my drafting efforts — and the other legal and tech reform efforts I led at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative — were focused primarily on the experiences of everyday victims of so-called 'revenge porn,'" Franks added.

      Related: Peter Thiel says journalists have nothing to fear from him

      The "everyday victims" to which Franks is referring are most frequently young women. Photos of them, often taken by former romantic partners, have ended up on sites like the now-defunct Is Anyone Up?, or on social media. According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 34 states have laws against revenge porn on the books.

      IPPA, much like the flurry of state laws that have been passed in recent years, would effectively outlaw revenge porn, and penalize people who make money off of it.

      Facebook, which like Google and Twitter has taken great pains to eliminate revenge porn from its platform, signaled its support for IPPA when it was introduced last month. Thiel was one of Facebook's earliest investors, and he still holds a seat on its board. The company declined to comment for this story.

      Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose home state of California has taken aggressive measures against revenge porn profiteers, introduced IPPA earlier this year with a number of co-sponsors from both parties. In a statement provided to VICE News, Speier argues that "IPPA was not created to address any one case specifically."

      "At the core of my legislation is the critical need for the federal government to deter this destructive conduct and to provide victims — no matter who they are — with access to justice," the statement says. "It is not 'the Gawker bill' or the 'revenge porn bill.'"

      Related: Most Americans don't care that Peter Thiel crushed Gawker

      Speier makes a strong point here — prior to the publication of Thiel's New York Times op-ed, the most prominent figure to refer to IPPA as the "Gawker Bill" was conservative blogger Jim Hoft.

      Capitol Hill staffers who have worked on the bill say that they aren't concerned about whether Thiel's op-ed will have an impact on IPPA's passage. One Democratic aide said that while Thiel's piece was definitely "inaccurate," at least five Republicans are still co-sponsors and "dozens more" remain interested.

      Although IPPA backers may be sympathetic to Hulk Hogan over Gawker's publication of his sex tape in 2013, Mary Anne Franks says that people like Hogan or Thiel (who, depending on who you ask, was "outed" by Gawker in 2007) aren't the focus of the legislation.

      "None of this is to suggest that Terry Bollea's case does not deserve to be considered nonconsensual pornography of the type that IPPA is meant to address — in my view it is," Franks said. "But I think it is misleading, and in Thiel's case disconcertingly self-serving, to suggest that the Gawker case prompted the legislation or that the legislation is primarily aimed at cases like Bollea's."

      Follow Noah Kulwin on Twitter: @nkulw

      Topics: gawker, peter thiel, donald trump, revenge porn, gawker bill, hulk hogan, terry bollea, intimate privacy protection act, cyber civil rights initiative, crime & drugs, politics, health, nonconsensual pornography, ippa

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