The Rise and Fall of PWL
The Internet has brought a change in society unmatched my most modern innovations of our time. It has vastly increased distances and proximities in ways like never before. Social rules and ways of engaging have changed.
People have shed their reservations and now feel free to behave with relatively little consequence, for better or worse. This new freedom has created some unlikely adversaries, and even more unlikely heroes.
Donny Long, legal name Donald Carlos Seoane, became active in the adult industry in 2005 as a male performer and it wasn’t long before he’d started conflicts with not one but two of the industry’s most powerful agents, among others. The conflicts escalated to the point that Long developed a website with the specific intent of harassing one of his adversaries online. The original URL was DerekAndrewHay.com, but eventually grew into a forum dedicated to harassing more than just it’s namesake. Long’s hit list grew to include girls who worked with the agents he despised, girls who worked with the performers he despised, or girls who wouldn’t work with him, and a scattering of others he chose to target for any number of reasons. In addition, he regularly posted hateful comments and enflamed lies on other prominent industry gossip sites until his user accounts were suspended, and invariably they were. Even to sites dedicated to inflammatory commentary his actions were recognized as crossing a line.
As the conflict continued to grow, Long widened his attack to include more than just insulting commentary. He began posting lists with their real names next to their stage names and was met with an almost unanimous response from the industry: he’d gone too far. Performers use stage names for their privacy and safety and he had jeopardized both. Having been kicked off most of the other boards he’d actively participated on, and feeling the pressure to either step up his fight or back down, Long created his final and most vicious site in December 2010—PornWikiLeaks.com.
Pornwikileaks.com, or PWL as it soon became known, was dedicated to creating and maintaining defamous wiki pages on all performers and industry insiders with whom Long felt he’d had a run-in, and some he hadn’t. Among the victims were Monica Foster, Mercedes Ashley, Nina Mercedes, Derek Hay, Mark Speigler, and a host of other people whose numbers totaled entries in the thousands. The chat boards attracted the most vicious commenters who felt free to behave under the cloak of anonymity that the Internet provides. Performers were refereed to as whores and hookers, men were accused of being closet homosexuals as if it were an offense on the level of child molestation—which was another accusation thrown around. Others were attacked based on their heritage or race. Of course the industry reacted again. This time Long responded with a rant threatening to expose the most personal information of all performers if he was not apologized to. He was ignored.
Long’s response was to illegally gain access to the AIM’s database, a non-profit organization responsible for the collection of samples and record maintenance of all STD testing in the adult industry. Those records are made available with the performers’ permission to producers and directors who hire them for work. Performers are required to test once every 30 days. The AIM clinic also caters to walk-in clientele who are only interested in low cost testing for their own purposes. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 names were included in the data dump that Long posted to PWL along with their performer names, if listed, driver’s license and social security numbers, or any other personal information that had been stored. The exact way that Long acquired this information is not yet known and remains under federal investigation.
When the data dump was posted on PWL, other industry gossip sites lit up with the news. Many who were aware of Long and his retaliatory nature chose to ignore it or sought legal representation. Some tried to reason with Long and sent private emails asking that he remove their names. Those people became targets. Mercedes Ashley was one of many performers who was unaware that any of this had been going on until someone sent a tweet alerting her to the fact that her medical information—specifically concerning STD records—was available online to anyone who cared to look. Ashley went in swinging. She has two children and had already retired from the industry and put it behind her after a very short career that only involved a few movies. Rather than respect her wishes, and her rights under HIPPA, the moderators at PWL took her fight to the chat boards and made it public. Other commenters jumped in with vicious attacks on her. Again, she fought back, now on this public forum. They doubled their attacks.
Says Ashley—“everyone kept saying, back off or you’re gonna get a wiki. And I didn’t know what the hell a wiki was. I was mad. I said screw them and their wikis and I kept fighting. Then I found out what a wiki was.”
A wiki page on pornwikileaks.com is an especially libelous dossier. Females who were given wikis were invariable listed as hookers and whores who had shamed their families. Private information that could easily jeopardize their safety was listed along with names and addresses of their children or other family members. Most men who were given wiki pages were labeled as “fags” except for a few who were aligned with Long and given rather glossy descriptions. Long listed himself as a “hero” and a “porn god” fighting the “gay mafia”, a termed he’d coined for industry insiders who opposed him.
News of the data leak broke into the mainstream media and drew more attention to the site. For many performers, their wikis on pornwikileaks became a top Google entry under their legal names, along with others who had tested at AIM but never actually been involved in the adult industry. There are numerous accounts of people having to explain to their friends and families what was going on, children being harassed at school because of what was said of their parents on the Internet, and jobs being jeopardized. There are at least two confirmed cases of retired performers losing their jobs over the postings on PWL. There is one confirmed case of a teenager who has been placed in therapy as a direct result of the postings made about his mother and the subsequent harassment he received at school. One retired performer committed suicide the day after she requested that PWL remove her information, although it has not been confirmed or denied whether PWL was the catalyst. As the number of affected increased, the traffic soared. New commenters who stumbled across the site joined in on the attacks. PWL’s strength grew.
Monica Foster was one of the most affected by PWL and the people who participated on it. She’d been an early contributor when the site first launched and she’d assumed it was just another chat forum. Ironically and regrettably, she became partly responsible for the site’s early success when she posted about a bad check written to her by a well-known professional athlete. That was the first time PWL received mainstream attention, as well as the beginning of a very hard road that the members and administrators drug her down. By the time her medical information was posted, she’d become the favorite victim of the site. The harassment grew outside the bounds of PWL though. Long took his online army to other social networking sites that she and other targets were active on, such as Twitter. They would batter the accounts of the people who openly fought PWL, as well as the accounts off those who interacted with them. It was not uncommon for one member of PWL to make ten or twenty fake twitter accounts and badger one person for a days on end to make it look like a coordinated attack.
It wasn’t hard to make the victim list on PWL. All you needed was record of an AIM test drawn sometime between late ’04 and February 2010 coupled with one of the qualities that PWL users hated. Foster believes that she was targeted for reasons beyond just the fact that she fought back. Long’s sites have a history of targeting male performers who have done crossover work, that is, work on both the straight and gay side of porn. They also have a history of targeting female performers who have worked with crossovers. When it came out that Foster’s father is openly gay, he became a target that the users at PWL gleefully took aim at. Additionally, Ashley and Foster and others were attacked based on race and because they were women in a forum where misogyny was not only tolerated but encouraged. Those victims identified as Jewish were subjected to heavy anti-Sematic rants. The assaults were non-stop. Donny’s army were in time zones all over the world and willing to go to great lengths to shake them. They posted pictures of their homes and made active attempts to stress family and work relationships.
Says Foster; “I felt completely helpless. They were indexing every adult star who had been active since 2004-05. They were trying to draw as much traffic as possible to route to their advertisers… There were advertisers making money per click off of my embarrassment and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was scared to death.”
And that was exactly the problem. Nothing could be done about it. While everyone suspected that Long was behind PWL, no one had any proof. The medical information leak is a HIPPA violation punishable under federal law but the law takes time and Long had run off to Thailand where he was safely out of reach of a growing group of people who had lost patience with the process. Everything else Long posted was protected under free speech, or the content that could be considered libelous could only be removed with a lawsuit that would never provide the payout to cover even it’s own costs. Long has very little to his name aside from the URL in question and some boxes in a storage unit.
Luckily, even anarchy has its order. As PWL’s assault spiraled out of control, a loose network of vigilantes around the world began to step up. Mike South, AVN award winning director and adult industry blogger on MikeSouth.com, turned his website into a platform dedicated almost exclusively to the transfer of information between parties who had the common goal of defeating PWL. Those who joined the fight knew that they would be drug into the wiki entries and cyber attacks along with the performers, but, as Mike said, “I didn’t have any secrets, my family knows what I do. I’m not ashamed. No one else was stepping up for these girls. If it were your everyday chick working in an office somewhere, something may have been done. But these were porn girls. No one felt like they deserved any protection. That’s simply untrue and ignorant. No one deserves to be treated like that.”
Michael Whiteacre also got involved. Self-described as a ‘recovering lawyer’, he lent his legal expertise pro bono to help the growing effort navigate what they could and could not do to fight back. When asked why he chose to get involved, his response was simple: “At the time I got involved there was no private info of mine on PWL. I’m just sick of seeing people being disgraced by hypocrites who make money off the same industry and people they excoriate.” Along with performing the role of the advocate, Whiteacre later became the bomb thrower of sensitive information that other unnamed individuals retrieved through whatever means they found necessary.
The final piece of the puzzle was brought in by Long himself. Sean Tompkins is incredibly adept online and had been a regular poster on some other sites that Long also posted on. Tompkins is not tied to the adult industry, nor did he know anything about PWL, but when Long suggested he check out the site in hopes that Tompkins might help draw traffic, he did. What he found made him sick. He asked Long if he owned the site and Long vehemently denied it, as he still does to this day, but after a few simple tests and some deductive elimination with the administrators, Tompkins knew that Long did in fact own the site. Tomkins joined the site as a commenter.
At first, Tompkins thought he could be the voice of reason that helped other posters realize they needed to back off, but when he suggested it, he too was attacked. After four days of fruitless attempts, he took a more aggressive approach. By then it was May. PWL had been actively harassing people for six months and had attracted a wide audience of gawkers and anonymous posters who felt safe to cross any and all lines they saw fit under the cloak of invisibility. Mercedes Ashley remembers cycles of breaking down in tears and then coming back out again swinging, always with a doubled effort. Monica Foster felt her life had become consumed by it. Mike South summed it up perfectly: “for these people commenting, it’s just something they do online, then they walk away from their computer screens and live their lives and forget about it. For the victims, there was no walking away.”
Tompkins, along with the assistance of a couple of unnamed Internet-savvy friends, began to gather the information they would need to take down not just Long, but all of the moderators and posters actively participating on PWL. They did the same thing to Long that he’d done to his victims—found addresses and pictures of his family, his dog, his personal information. They toyed with Long and he responded by posting pictures of Tompkins two children, complete with the customary racist rants. Then Tompkins and his team made a major breakthrough and gained access to the personal information of the posters and administrators. They would no longer be anonymous. Long was given the option to take down the defamatory links and comments by 5pm in exchange for Tompkin’s backing off. Instead, Long chose to stop responding to DMCA notices ordering him to take down content he’d pirated for the purpose of harassing featured performers and increased his own efforts.
Once Long ignored the DMCA notices it gave South the legal opening he needed to ask a judge to compel GoDaddy.com to release the information of the person who registered pornwikileaks.com. Sure enough, the name on the record was Donald Carlos Seoane. Meanwhile, administrators and commenters fled the site when they realized their own personal information was about to be exposed. South gave them the option of publicly apologizing on his site and a number of emotionally charged apologies came through by email. Those who chose to apologize over the phone often called in tears. PWL’s traffic dropped dramatically.
But Long wasn’t ready to back down. He kept up the harassment on his own while Whiteacre and South used the newly acquired domain information to find the person responsible for funding the site and Tompkins used his talents against Long and the administrators. Ten days before PWL went down for good, Tompkins sent Long an email. It told him that he had ten days left. The next day Long received another email, this time stating that he had nine days. This went on until the last day of the countdown, when Tompkins dropped his final bomb: he named the man responsible for providing the funding to keep PWL going—Michael Tierny, commonly known in the adult industry as performer Joe Blow. He also named every single person who had participated in victimizing other performers. He had access to every single piece of private information surrounding PWL that Long and Tierney had ever had. 41 minutes later the site was taken down.
PWL has been offline for close to two weeks now. More apologies are coming through as well as thank you letters from people across the adult industry. The legal investigation into Long’s crimes continues but the harassment of his victims has stopped.
Says Mercedes Ashley, “I feel awesome, amazing. I can enjoy my retirement. I can go home and chill out and be on my computer. This was one of the worst sites I’ve ever seen in my entire 12 years on the internet. I’ve never seen a site this evil. Bringing it down is something to rejoice about. I wanna forgive. I don’t wanna hold grudges. I wanted the site down. I just wanna thank everybody. Right on. Innocent people ended up on that site. I appreciate everybody who helped.”
Foster is more reserved. She worries about the cached pages on Google that still reflect the terror that PWL inflicted on her. She is in the process of moving and picking up the pieces. The last thing she had to say was, “It’s not over yet. A lot of people think that it will fade away and we’re not all that upset anymore. I will seek legal recourse because it really affected my life.”
Either way, the fight against Pornwikileaks.com has shown that the Internet has not destroyed accountability and has not created anonymity. While PWL was not original in it’s construction of a forum designed to criticize performers, it was by far the worst of it’s kind. Many are still assessing the damages and doling out the lawsuits. The authorities remain involved in investigations on both state and federal levels. Others feel like there’s no promise that another site like it won’t spring up in its place. Hopefully their story serves as an example though, and a reason why it won’t.