A Philadelphia news anchor has sued Facebook, Reddit, and other web platforms after a convenience store photo started showing up in dating and erectile dysfunction ads. Karen Hepp, who works for Fox 29 News, filed the suit earlier this week. She alleges that the sites violated her right of publicity and damaged her reputation with “abhorrent and disgusting” uses of the picture.
Hepp’s lawsuit names Facebook, Reddit, the image repository Imgur, the animated GIF site Giphy, and the porn site XNXX, alongside 10 other operators of unnamed sites. She writes that approximately two years ago, she discovered that a convenience store security camera photo of her had appeared online in some unwanted contexts. That included a Facebook ad promising meetups with “single women,” an unspecified ad for erectile dysfunction, a Reddit forum for sexualized pictures of older women, and the “MILF” tag on Imgur.
The lawsuit asks these sites to take down any copies of her photograph and to compensate her for their profits and the damage to her reputation. That could prove a difficult request, since under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, sites generally aren’t responsible for content that’s posted by users. The post on Reddit, for example, seems clearly user-generated. So Hepp could sue the person who posted it, but she couldn’t extend that liability to Reddit. If the operators of a site like XNXX collected and posted her photo themselves, there’s a better chance of taking them to court.
Hepp is just one of many people who’s had photos posted in an unwelcome sexual context, including targets of nonconsensual pornography or “revenge porn.” (Hepp’s photograph was taken in a public place and doesn’t involve any nudity, but she’s wearing a low-cut blouse under a blazer.) In those cases, at least, it’s often clear how the pictures got online, like being posted from a hacked device or leaked by an ex-partner — but Hepp apparently has no idea how the security photo made its way to these sites.