26-year-old Hunter Moore’s business plan was simple: he got rich by publishing indecent pictures of men and women without their permission.
He would encourage visitors to his site to “submit noodz” (nudes) of their former girlfriends and boyfriends, as well as details about who the subject was and why they deserved to be featured.
This information would be posted up in full on his site, IsAnyoneUp.com.
As well as the person’s full name and location, links to social networks, usually Facebook, would also be included.
Below each post appeared a stream of comments from visitors critiquing – to put it lightly – the victim’s looks and body.
If anyone complained, they were ridiculed. If they threatened legal action, Hunter Moore ignored it. As many of the site’s victims soon discovered, they were largely powerless to do anything about it.
It was enough for many to dub Hunter Moore the “most hated man on the internet”.
“I love the attention,” Hunter Moore said ahead of the site’s surprise closure.
“People think I’m completely evil and what I’m doing is completely immoral, but at the end of the day I feel like I’m just educating people on technology.
“As sad as it is, hurting or ruining people’s lives as people say, is entertainment for some.”
In what has been seen as an uncharacteristic flicker of conscience, Hunter Moore announced handing the domain to Bullyville – an anti-bullying social network.
It means, after weeks of worry, people like Lucy (not her real name), a 22-year-old British woman, can now begin to get over their experiences.
A selection of pictures, taken by her and sent to her then-boyfriend, were published alongside a link to her Twitter account.
It didn’t take long before the messages and friend requests started to flood in.
“I burst into tears knowing that everyone would see these pictures and I would be a laughing stock,” she said.
“My friends, family and current boyfriend have all seen the images and it’s been made extremely embarrassing to go back to work or attend university.”
Lucy emailed Hunter Moore several times to ask for the pictures to be removed. All her requests were ignored.
She turned to her local police force.
“They [did] nothing at all to help with this situation besides saying contact the website, which I have done and still nothing has happened,” she said.
In the US, the FBI’s internet crime department said it was not investigating the site.
IsAnyoneUp was set up at the end of 2010 – originally as a way for Hunter Moore to write stories about his own experiences with women, as well as post pictures.
A year on, Hunter Moore said IsAnyoneUp was getting over 300,000 hits a day, and was raking in about $20,000 a month in advertising revenue – a large portion of which was being spent on web hosting costs.
There were very few subjects off limits for Hunter Moore. Most popular, he said, were posts showing teachers.
“People obviously want it, and I’m going to give the people what they want.
“That could definitely affect someone’s livelihood,” he admitted.
“I didn’t use to post teachers, and then I realized that’s where all the traffic is. I have to pay my bills.
“I’m just a businessman.
“I just monetize people’s mistakes that they made and it’s kind of a shady business. But if it wasn’t me, somebody else was going to do it. All I did was really perfected the way to monetize people’s naked pictures.”
As the site’s notoriety grew, so too did the media coverage and, Hunter Moore claimed, threats to his safety.
“I’ve had people climb over the fence, come to my parties, try and fight me, just to serve me with papers, just to get stuff removed.
“I’ve never had anyone successfully do anything. I’d be interested to see what route people would take just because I’m so bored with my life and reading all these stupid emails from people trying to sue me for millions of dollars, but no – I haven’t had anything happen yet.”
The site’s fans – of which there were many – continued to support it, despite increased media scrutiny, setting up online campaigns to save it.
“They were like, <<Oh yeah, Hunter’s awesome>>,” Hunter Moore said.
Evan Brown, a lawyer in the US, had advised several people on how to deal with IsAnyoneUp. He was able to have one woman’s pictures removed. Hunter Moore acknowledged it as the only successful claim.
The lawyer utilized a law intended to help copyright holders remove content from the likes of YouTube. As the picture was a self-portrait, copyright belonged automatically to the woman in question.
A removal request was sent; not to Hunter Moore, but to the host of his website. It worked – but Hunter Moore adapted, Evan Brown said.
“Since then, it appears he has moved the site to another server to make it more difficult to ascertain where it is that it’s hosted, and who to send that notice to.”
Hunter Moore said he has had over 40 different hosts for the website.
Until its closure, IsAnyoneUp.com was hosted with BlackLotus, an LA-based company which specializes in handling security threats such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, a common tactic used by hackers to knock websites offline.
BlackLotus president Jeffrey Lyon confirmed its business with Hunter Moore, adding that he did not make moral judgements on the actions of its clients.
Jeffrey Lyon said he took a “neutral” view of Hunter Moore’s activities.
Evan Brown said it was very difficult to accuse Hunter Moore of breaking any other laws in relation to IsAnyoneUp, and the relative low profile of the victims helped offer an added layer of protection.
“That this site has been able to persist for over a year now is a testament to the fact of how expensive litigation is, how difficult the processes are to discover who is responsible for positing these images,” Evan Brown said.
He also cited a web phenomena known as the “Streisand effect”, the theory that attempting to take legal action over an issue only serves to inflate it further.
“There’s any number of reasons why people don’t want to magnify this problem. That certainly is an impediment because of the ridicule they could subject themselves to,” Evan Brown said.
“I’ve consulted with a couple of college athletes who didn’t want their coach to find out.”
Hunter Moore detailed several plans for the website – including a social network and even a spin-off TV show planned with a “major US network” – a week before IsAnyoneUp’s closure.
“I have a lot of stuff in the works, and I have a lot of people working with me behind bigger things.”
In his closure statement, Hunter Moore claimed he could no longer deal with the “drama” caused when under-age content was submitted.
He said this posed the biggest problem for the site – particularly when it came to submissions originating from the UK.
“A lot of under-age content comes out of your end of the world,” he said.
“We almost had to black out the UK from accessing the site at one point because we were getting so much under-age content. We usually just flag it and try and report it.”
It is as yet unclear what caused Hunter Moore’s sudden change of tack.
In his note posted on Bullyville.com – which is where visitors to IsAnyoneUp.com are redirected – he said he wanted to “stand up” for victims of bullying.
That statement stands in stark contrast to his previous comments: “It’s anonymous to me. I don’t know the people – it’s just a little picture on a screen.
“If you’re just crying over some [picture] you sent to some boy you just met, no I’m not going to take it down, and no I don’t really care.”