Nov. 8, 2013 at 8:53 AM ET
It’s easy to condemn She’s A Homewrecker, an online forum where “wronged” wives and girlfriends post photos, painful details and even the names and addresses of women they say cheated with their men. And, following a scathing article on Jezebel about the website and its more popular Facebook page posted last week, plenty are doing just that.
No matter that She’s A Homewrecker is about a year old, and not even the biggest public shaming forum frequented by adults. [Have a look at Cheaterville or The Dirty, if you're curious.] Since the end of October, major media outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. have called out the site for fostering hate among women, cyberbullying, slut-shaming and letting the cheating husbands off the hook.
These are the keywords of Internet condemnation. And true enough, the site ain’t pretty. Women who could be anyone’s sister, mom or insurance agent smile from mundane selfies on page after page of the accused. The photos, likely scraped from Facebook or in the case of the few nude pics, a faithless hubby’s cellphone, are accompanied by heartbroken tales of abandoned families and predatory women. These “homewreckers” are called every name in the misogynist glossary, by both the woman who says she’s been wronged and the female forum members who support her. Some forum members are so supportive, they supplement "homewrecker" profiles by tracking down and posting personal information of these women they’ve never met.
In other words, just another — perfectly legal — day on the Internet.
"People say they hate it, but they’re drawn to it,” says the She's A Homewrecker founder, who goes by the name Ariella Alexander. With a companion Facebook page hosting 248,000 members, the website has more than 300 pages, containing information on approximately 1,400 accused homewreckers. "I believe [the website] provides some form of closure for these women," said Alexander, who personally vets the hundreds submissions a day. "Perhaps a few women will think twice before becoming involved with a married man."
In the age of mutual surveillance, when a woman who "likes" every status a man posts on Facebook can tip off his girlfriend to an affair (as is one woman's story posted on the site) She's A Homewrecker and its Internet-shaming compatriots are fulfilling a desire among some for the public wrath of a small community ... or high school cafeteria. Yet the site isn't a total free-for-all. Not every "homewrecker" report is posted, and per site guidelines, the women who submit the stories must include their own name and email, though this info isn't posted on the site.
"Cyberbullying" and "slut-shaming" are the go-to words these days when describing cruelty on the Internet, but Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan who has researched digital culture since 1994, doesn't think sites such as Homewrecker fit neatly into either category. "Slut-shaming," Nakamura explains, is "calling out the behavior of a woman which is simply female behavior that people don't like, or overtly sexual behavior that can make people uncomfortable. Even though the content [of Homewrecker] is about women calling other women 'sluts,' this is about very specific personal relationships."
Noting that many of the stories she viewed on the site are from smaller, rural towns — instead of big cities where it's easy to get lost — Nakamura wonders if the the inability to avoid the accused or the accuser fuels the animosity, if not Internet vigilantism. If you're given a cyber scarlet letter in Brooklyn, "nobody is going to see it," Nakamura said. But if you live in a small town, and "your nanny or your haircutter sees it, it's going to be a problem." If you're shunned or too embarrassed to keep paying either, "you're not going to get another one of those unless you move."
Whatever the criticism for her website, Alexander doesn't buy it. She's surprised some believe she's pitting women against women. "If you review the website, you will see that these women have no regard for other women and their families," said Alexander, who shared her own story of life with a cheating husband and her interactions with his mistress through I'm In Love With A Serial Cheater — a blog she recently closed to protect her privacy.
Despite the focus on the "other woman," Alexander also rejects criticism that She's A Homewrecker lets men off the hook. Note the "She" in the website's name. "You do not go to Taco Bell and ask for a Big Mac, do you?" she said. "Yes, these men are responsible for cheating on their wives, and I believe many of the women do hold them accountable." Choosing whom to blame, it seems, can be a lot about resource guarding. "These women have lives, children, homes with these men. They have invested many years with their husbands. They love them ... it is different."
Alexander just launched a website for men, He's A Homewrecker, the website version of the Facebook page she launched several months back, "where women can expose their cheating partner/husband/ex-husband or where men can expose their wives affair partners. The other man their wife is sleeping with. "
People who ask to have their photos and information removed from She's A Homewrecker — requests Alexander said she gets "every second of the day" — but she has lawyers.
Both the website and the wronged parties writing to her site have a lot of protection under the law, Andy Sellars, a staff attorney at the Digital Media Law Project, told NBC News. Sites that host content — Facebook, Reddit, She's A Homewrecker — aren't responsible for content posted by their users, per Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Angry spouses and lovers, meanwhile, have a lot of legal leeway to talk trash about the people and circumstances of a "Homewrecker" incident if what they're sharing is pretty much true. To hold someone liable for the publication of a private facts, the plaintiff has to prove that information was private, among other things. And hey, if the angry spouse busted you via Facebook posts, which they then shared on the Homewrecker site, that's hardly private. As for calling someone a "skank" ... well, that's a matter of opinion, and pretty much free speech.
"Sure it’s scummy but it’s not necessarily illegal," Sellars said. "And a lot of cases, it’s probably not."