UPDATED: Is the Fashion Industry’s Newly-Published Blacklist Legal?

UPDATED: Is the Fashion Industry’s Newly-Published Blacklist Legal?

image: Unsplash The anonymous individual behind “Shit Model Management” is moving beyond memes that poke fun at the long hours, little pay, and near-constant critique endured by the faces of the fashion industry. The account’s operator has created a “blacklist” ...

March 6, 2018 - By TFL

UPDATED: Is the Fashion Industry’s Newly-Published Blacklist Legal?

Case Documentation

UPDATED: Is the Fashion Industry’s Newly-Published Blacklist Legal?

 image: Unsplash

image: Unsplash

The anonymous individual behind “Shit Model Management” is moving beyond memes that poke fun at the long hours, little pay, and near-constant critique endured by the faces of the fashion industry. The account’s operator has created a “blacklist” – one that has been likened to fashion’s version of the “Shitty Media Men” list – that contains nearly 300 names, ranging from well-known photographers, like Mario Testino, Olivier Zahm, and Bruce Weber to big-name designers like Tom Ford and Jeremy Scott. All of the individuals on the list have allegedly “acted [in a] sexually inappropriate” manner towards models and others in the fashion industry.

According to the site’s creator, “I asked my followers to message me the names of any photographers that acted sexually inappropriate towards them. My DMs immediately blew up. I was receiving thousands of messages from different models.” Unlike the “Shitty Media Men” list, which was meant to be shared amongst women in the industry and not published in a public capacity, the Shit Model Management founder compiled the submitted names into a list and published it on the newly-created site.

Certainly anticipating legal backlash (likely as a result of the publication of what appears to be unverified information), the creator – who told The Cut’s Emilia Petrarca that she is trying to keep the list as accurate as possible by amending it if “a photographer DMs me saying he didn’t do anything wrong, begging me to take him off the list” – includes an interesting note in connection with the list. It reads: “The names on this list were sent to me, and I am simply publishing what was sent to me. Section 230 in the U.S. Code says that ‘No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’”

The post quotes language from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which referred to Section 230 of the U.S. Code – the Communication Decency Act of 1996 – as “protecting bloggers when they publish information sent by a third-party.”

Shit Model Management’s founder goes on to try to make her case, “I am reporting and reposting content that was sent to me, and I am not editing or changing the content.” In short, her rationale is that because she is merely posting content that is being sent to her, she is immune from legal action, namely, defamation – or more specifically, libel, since the potentially inaccurate and reputation-harming statements at issue are written.

Is it really that simple, though? Almost certainly not, as Petrarca noted yesterday. This is at least in part because the site’s founder may be able to be construed by any of the individuals on the list as more than merely a service provider, and more accurately, an author, i.e., the author of the fashion blacklist, and thus, liable for any defamatory content.

Typically, we see the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act cited when lawsuits are filed against website operators over content that is included in the comments section of their websites. For instance, several years ago, Sarah Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader sued Arizona-based gossip website, The Dirty, alleging that anonymous comments erroneously posted on the site stated that she had slept with numerous players and as a result, contracted sexually transmitted diseases. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with Nik Richie, the founder of the website, holding that Richie did not develop or create the content and thus, was immune from liability. But that case centered on statements that were posted in the comments section of Richie’s website by third parties. That is different, one could argue, from the instance at hand. 

One noteworthy takeaway from the the Jones v. The Dirty case – especially given some of the factual differences between that case and the Shit Model Management blacklist – comes from a a joint brief filed (in favor of Richie) by the Kentucky branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology, Digital Media Law Project and Public Participation Project. 

In their amicus brief, the groups stated, “Federal courts have consistently held that website operators may be held responsible for developing unlawful material only if the facts demonstrate that the operator unambiguously solicited or induced content that is itself unlawful.” While the groups argued that “no such facts have been found in [the Jones v. The Dirty] case,” there seems to be some evidence of Shit Model Management soliciting content, namely, the operator’s call for her followers to send her the names of any photographers that “acted sexually inappropriately.”

Moreover, there very well might be a reasonable argument that by issuing this call for user submissions and then publishing that information as part of a larger narrative (i.e., a blacklist of “people in the fashion industry that [the site’s creator] suggests [that] models avoid”), the site’s operator is acting more as an author or dissemintaor of content than merely “a provider of interactive computer services,” something that would made her ineligible for s. 230 protections. 

The question remains: Is the content at hand unlawful? Assuming that the information is inaccurate, and thus, libelous – which a number of representatives for individuals on the list have argued to TFL, arguably making this a matter most appropriate for a fact finder (i.e., jury), as opposed to the decisions of the media or individuals in a non-jury capacity – the wrongfully accused just might be able to make a case, even if the founder’s intentions are noble and aimed at making the fashion industry a safer place for models (which they appear to be).

UPDATED (March 6, 2018): Just a week after its publication, the list is no more. After receiving threats of litigation, as well as “threats against her safety and the safety of her family,” the blacklist’s author opted to unpublished the list. The existence of the list, itself, while inherently problematic from a legal perspective, paired with the threats that its author says she received as a result of posting it, sheds light on the at-times very ugly underside of the fashion industry (and its not infrequent attempts to keep bad behavior under wraps) and the backlash that those attempting to stand up against its alleged abuses face. 

This list, itself, sheds light on the many unaddressed allegations of sexual harassment. The Cut’s Emilia Petrarca notes that New York-based organization The Model Alliance has a better idea of how to deal with such claims, which continue to run rampant in the fashion industry, proposing a “neutral, nonprofit arbitrating entity that will guarantee accountability” to help solve this issue. 

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