You’ve got to hand it to Netflix. Its documentaries about online subjects always have killer titles: “Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer.” “The Tinder Swindler.” “Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror.” And now we have “The Most Hated Man on the Internet.”
Three things to note about that name. First, maybe the streaming giant should get the folks who come up with documentary titles to switch to the film division for a while, because I’m sure they could do better than “The Gray Man,” “Spiderhead,” “Black Crab” and “The Man from Toronto.”
Second, want to narrow it down a little for us, Netflix? Being the most hated man on the internet is a little like being the most corrupt politician on Capitol Hill or the most opinionated Israeli – there’s a lot of competition. Or maybe Netflix is thinking bigger and already has “The Most Hated Woman on the Internet” and “The Most Hated Pronoun on the Internet” lined up for future years?
Third, this particular “most hated man” epithet was actually concocted by the news media back in 2012 and used repeatedly to describe Hunter Moore. He’s the creator of the Is Anyone Up? website (isanyoneup.com), which allowed people to submit nude personal photos of anyone to the site, with users then anonymously commenting on that person’s looks.
It was basically an amoral dude seeing Mark Zuckerberg’s vile “rating women online” idea that spawned Facebook and saying “Hold my beer…”
Is Anyone Up? was a despicable exercise that enjoyed 15 minutes of internet fame between 2011-2012 and secured Moore the nickname “the king of revenge porn.” That’s because most of the people featured on the site had not consented to their photos being submitted.
There were four especially troubling facts about Is Anyone Up?:
1. Obviously, that lack of consent.
2. The fact that the page with the pics contained that person’s social media profile, so you could also see revealing details about their personal lives. This would also allow the page appear on Google if you did a search for that person’s name.
3. The fact that once the photos were up, it was nearly impossible to get them taken down. Indeed, to compound matters, in a section called “Daily Hate,” Moore would publish correspondence from people pleading to have their pictures removed from the site. It was basically like being condemned to Hell and then being made to work in the boiler room.
4. The fact that anonymous users could post comments under the images that were invariably derogatory and deeply insulting (and let’s not even get into the appalling grammar).
Is Anyone Up? was the kind of cesspool that would have had internet creator Tim Berners-Lee with his head in his hands and wondering what the heck had happened to his beautiful invention. God no doubt feels the same pretty much every second of His/Her/Their day.
Which brings us to this three-part documentary looking back on Moore’s exercise in cruelty. And while “Most Hated Man” is a well-told, slickly shot series (what did documentaries do for establishing shots in the days before drones?), I’m not entirely sure why it’s being told in this form – which doesn’t advance the story a day past 2015 when Moore was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison for the hacking of accounts (posting pictures without consent was not illegal, however).
Natalie Portman, call your agent
I can’t remember the last time I watched a documentary where I kept constantly thinking: This is fascinating, but it would be an even better six-part Netflix drama series, starring someone like Natalie Portman or Charlize Theron as the fearless mom who takes the fight to Moore after her daughter’s email account is hacked and nude photos are posted on his site.
What we get here are the key protagonists who ultimately dethroned the king of revenge porn: Said mom Charlotte Laws, who became a one-woman crusader for the women – and it is invariably women – whose accounts were hacked and whose most private moments were displayed as entertainment to the world. (Charlotte also has a doozy of a backstory that is briefly alluded to at the start of episode 2, involving gaining access to glitzy Hollywood gatherings.)
These included her young daughter Kayla, who – spoiler alert – would provide the most powerful of impact statements at Moore’s subsequent trial as he paid for his arrogance and incompetence in getting an accomplice to hack email accounts in the hunt for nude photos.
We also hear from other victims, including Butthole Girl (you don’t want to know how she got that nickname); the ex-girlfriend, who eventually saw the light about her sleazebag boyfriend; an FBI agent who led the investigation into Moore and his accomplice Charlie Evens; and the ex-Marine who persuaded Moore to give it all up when the feds were on his trail.
What we’re lacking is any modern-day input from the man himself, though there are contemporaneous media interviews where he delights in the fact that he can “make money off titties and fucking people over.”
The documentary, directed by Rob Miller, notes at the end that Moore originally agreed to take part in the series but later changed his mind (“We decided to use his image anyway”), so we’re none the wiser about what he feels about his endeavor a decade on and – another spoiler alert – spending a couple of years behind bars.
On his Twitter page he describes himself as a “small town Christian boy” – Jesus, when did young white Americans become so obsessed with God? – and even posted a tweet last week flagging the Netflix documentary and soliciting feedback on it/him.
So, I would have loved for the documentary to be able to grill him on Is Anyone Up? and why he was so impervious to the pain of others. The sad truth, though, is that, based on his earlier words and deeds, it would be hard to believe anything that comes out of this small-town Christian boy’s mouth.
What we’re really lacking in the series is a sense of context and an attempt to address the wider question of why the internet brings out the worst in people.
Is it purely the cloak of anonymity that allows folks to write the most damning things about complete strangers – comments they would never presumably make if they were held accountable or if they were physically in the same room as that person? Or is the internet merely holding a mirror up to us all once the pretense of civility is discarded and we can display our true naked selves – something that is worthy of the harshest of criticism?
I really wanted “Most Hated Man” to bring the subject into the present day rather than offer us a history lesson from 2012, as if the internet hasn’t become even more sulfurous in the intervening decade.
I also wanted to learn if a genuine keyboard warrior like Charlotte Laws is still fighting revenge porn and its latest monster, deepfake porn, or who the latter-day Charlottes are. And if they have an organization called Charlottes Web.
In short, I wanted the documentary to delve deeper and ask: Is anyone up for saving the internet?
“The Most Hated Man on the Internet” is out now on Netflix.