These days the Dateline series “To Catch a Predator” and its tenacious host Chris Hansen are pop culture icons. Conan O’Brien even parodied one of the famous kitchen confrontation scenes on the Emmy’s this year.
While there is a prurient, tabloid fascination with nabbing partially clothed oddballs, the viewer has a relatively guilt free ride. Ultimately, the men are doing something wrong.
But that is not the case with a “gotcha” story out on the Web today. In Seattle, a prankster named Jason Fortuny has struck fear into the hearts of more than a few online daters.
Fortuny went to the “Men Seeking Women” page on Craigslist’s Seattle site, and posted a bogus personal ad claiming to be a 27-year-old woman seeking rough and raunchy sex with men in her age range.
It was exactly the kind of ad one sees on Craigslist (presuming you’ve ever looked, which of course I have not), complete with a nasty, naked photo. As you can imagine, the no strings attached offer from an attractive twenty something female elicited many responses.
Men described their anatomies, their proclivities, their location requirements—as in “your place or mine”—and many sent photos of themselves in various states of undress. Several were en fuego, as they say.
All in good fun, until that photo appears on a public website and the whole thing is revealed to be a giant game of X-rated candid camera.
Fortuny posted the email responses and photos on Encyclopediadramatica.com, much to the chagrin of all involved.
These men were doing nothing wrong, or at least nothing illegal. They were adults seeking consensual sex with an adult female, and the ads included no promise of monetary exchange or drug use. Just good, clean raunch.
The result is extreme embarrassment at the least, and we can only guess what these disclosures will do to any personal relationships these men may be conducting offline. Yet, there is very little recourse for the victims.
Craigslist has been around the block before—offers of sex for cash, sex for free rent, and illegal drug sales have all been found on the site. But as Craigslist is a service provider, they are no more liable for their users’ actions than Myspace.com would be if a predator met a minor there.
As for the prankster, civil action may not be out of the question, but while he may have crossed the line morally he was just inside the bounds legally.
There is a lesson to be learned that I find myself repeating all too often at the end of these stories: Do not share anything online that you would not share with your mother, your wife, or your boss.
I am not blaming the victims here. They were duped, plain and simple. But as tempting as online dating and secret trysts may seem, do you want a nude photo of yourself plastered across a website—and a humor website at that?