An early domino in the evolving chain of internet degeneracy

I remember when IsAnyoneUp.com was around. I was about 16-17 and had shared some risky texts. When I found out the site existed, I became paranoid I would somehow end up on it, although I didn’t have much reason to think I would. The idea that “revenge porn” was a thing people could do to target anyone who they felt had wronged them, or even existed and dared to take a naked photo, was terrifying.

Back then, the internet really felt like a lawless no man’s land where anything and everything could, and did, happen. That’s the status we return to in Netflix’s latest documentary series, The Most Hated Man on the Internet, which focuses on IsAnyoneUp creator and self-proclaimed “professional life ruiner” Hunter Moore.

We already know how toxic social media platforms and online forums can be in 2022, but over a decade ago the debauchery and danger knew no bounds. It was much easier to be anonymous and to share horrible stuff without being held accountable. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the online permanence.

Once something is on the internet, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it for good. Anyone who has ever had an old Tweet screen-captured and used against them knows that, but it’s even worse when it comes to photos.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet review

Getting canceled over a joke told in poor taste pales in comparison, however, to the kind of mental torture Moore inflicted on the masses. He placed the goal post for public humiliation and used cyberbullying as a way to control and influence his many followers, who took to calling themselves “the family.”

Moore gleefully motivated his followers to antagonize victims posted to IsAnyoneUp, pushing many to the brink of suicide and waging warfare on mental health. And despite creating a forum inundated with hate and victim-blaming, Moore refused to take responsibility for the culture he created, instead blaming the site’s users, who were the ones actually submitting photos to be uploaded.

Except, Charlotte Laws and the FBI found out that was not entirely true. Moore was later sentenced to prison after accepting a plea deal for identity theft and hacking charges. He worked with a partner named Charlie Evans who he reportedly paid to hack into accounts and steal private photos, which would later end up on the website.

That’s how Charlotte Laws got involved. Her daughter, Kayla Laws, was a victim of hacking. And even though Charlotte and her husband, an attorney, was able to speak with Moore’s lawyer and get Kayla’s photographs removed (something Moore normally never did no matter how much someone pleaded), Charlotte didn’t stop until she was satisfied the “king of revenge porn” would get his comeuppance.

Now it has been more than a decade since Moore became infamous and he’s once again the center of a story, except this time he’s not the one holding the power. The Most Hated Man on the Internet excels as a documentary series because it focuses on Charlotte’s narrative and that of many victims who felt Moore’s wrath or that of “the family’s.”

Many of the documentary subjects interviewed were people who either knew Moore intimately, or were impacted by the website. Coming from Raw TV, the creators of other popular Netflix documentaries like Don’t F**k with Cats and The Tinder Swindler, The Most Hated Man on the Internet is a captivating portrait of a truly dark time in internet history and Charlotte Laws served as the perfect foil to Moore’s crusade.

Where the documentary falls short is in failing to create meaningful connections between that era and modern internet culture, which in many ways has metastasized into a more insidious kind of corruption and mental torture, replete with hate groups, the alt-right, rampant misinformation and more. If Moore helped curate the prototypical incel then what we see now is the next evolutionary phase, one that goes beyond revenge porn, creeping into deeper pockets of depravity.

After he was forced to shutdown his website in 2012, Moore had plans to create a new and improved version of IsAnyoneUp, one that would actually incite real-life violence and possibly even murder. He seemed to not only court chaos, but hope for it, as if every instance of self-harm, bullying or devastation was an achievement. IsAnyoneUp 2.0 would actually have gone much further, doxxing each victim and allowing users to not only submit nude photos without consent, but also include an address and driving directions on how to reach their homes.

The scary thing is that, while Moore was never able to launch that website, a version of his plans is what we see now more than ever with doxxing becoming commonplace and things like SWATing becoming part of the everyday internet vernacular. Since 2010, the internet troll’s arsenal of devastation has only grown. That’s the kind of domino effect Moore happily facilitated way back in 2010.

In many ways, The Most Hated Man on the Internet is the perfect prequel to Netflix’s other recent docuseries, Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies & the Internet, which explores the very evolution of internet fiefdom I’m referring to, including SWATing, Q-Anon and sextortion—something IsAnyoneUp certainly played a part in bringing to life in a real, terrifying way. The idea of anonymous users online exerting total control over your life because you dare to sext or post an opinion that a violent fringe group disagrees with is horrifying, to say the least.

That story is there, percolating in the background of each of the three documentary installments, but I wish we could have gotten a little more insight into those connections. In some ways, it feels like The Most Hated Man on the Internet only scratches the surface of exploring the kind of environment that fostered someone like Moore and raised him up onto a pedestal.

His cult-like group of fans known as “the family” could probably have used more fleshing out, maybe even a full episode of focus, because, while Moore is the architect of IsAnyoneUp, he’s not entirely wrong in calling out that at least some of the culpability resides in the website’s merciless user base.

Even now, if you look up Moore on Twitter you can see people still using the old hashtags and looking back fondly on an era that many associate with the worst moments of their lives. What is that makes people speak with affection about this kind of draconian public humiliation? Do they really believe women and men should experience malicious degradation for taking intimate photos or daring to appreciate their bodies? Is it just the act of playing the judge and jury that excites them so much?

Most often, these stories and documentaries focus on a single person, the progenitor or Charles Manson-like figure at the helm who orchestrates an arena in which the vitriol can fly freely, while the invisible but insidious masses get to lurk in people like Moores’ shadow and benefit from their creation.

It would be nice to shine the light onto the darkness protecting those participating from the sidelines and examine the kind of people who are proudly part of these groups, who are happy to upload their ex’s nude photos sent in private, post vicious attacks on someone’s looks or type out hopes for a kindergarten teacher to lose her job. Still, despite the documentary’s shortcomings, it’s a pertinent cautionary tale and certainly feels “of the moment.” I believe it’s always beneficial to give victims a chance to tell their story.

And while Moore was originally going to participate in the docuseries before pulling out, it certainly feels fitting that for once, several of those most impacted by the website and Moore’s legacy get to come forward while his voice is the one excluded. At least he had the courtesy of getting to decline, which is far more than what he ever offered his victims.

To sum up, I think The Most Hated Man on the Internet producer Vikki Miller puts it best in her statement regarding what she hopes viewers take away from the docuseries:

I want people to be fascinated and moved by the series, and for them to see how pernicious and destructive intimate image abuse is. Even though this story took place over 10 years ago, it’s still happening on a massive scale now. I want people to stop and think about what the impact will be before they send their ex-girlfriend’s nudes to their WhatsApp groups, or websites where these images are now traded like Pokémon cards. Please listen to what these people went through, and don’t make someone you know suffer like that.

And on a more positive note, I want people to take action on the issues they feel strongly about. Charlotte never took no for an answer and through doggedness and hard work she achieved her goal. And the “victims” featured in this series took action by speaking out and sharing what they went through in order to stop it happening again. Fight for what you believe in!

Charlotte Laws helped get laws passed against intimate image abuse, or “revenge porn,” in 48 states, but there is still now U.S. federal legislation against it.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet begins streaming tomorrow, July 27 on Netflix.

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