59ºF

Guilty Or Not, Here Comes Cheaterville

HOUSTON – Infidelity is one of the most hurtful breaches of trust. So what do you do with cheaters after they have been kicked to the curb? Send them to Cheaterville.

The owner of the website, James McGibney, told Local 2 he created the website after a fellow Marine came home from Iraq to find his wife had been sleeping with someone else.

"There?s a lot of people who cheat, and there?s a lot of people who are sick of being cheated on," McGibney said. "Cheaterville is a good spot for them to expose those cheaters and pay it forward to that next person. There's a lot of bad people in society, and this is one way of outing them."

In the spirit of other popular web businesses like Farmville and Cityville, McGibney picked the name, and the website took off. At Cheaterville people can post anonymously about the people who they say have cheated on them. The posters can remain anonymous but with names, pictures and details about their lives, the people accused are not so lucky.

Guilty or not, the name and story are not only on the website but easily searchable as Cheaterville pops up when the accused person?s name is searched on Google. McGibney told Local 2 it is not about revenge, but more about warning others. The owner claims the posts are not as bad as they could be.

"People try to put home addresses; try to put the mistresses' phone numbers on the website. They try to put credit card numbers and naked pictures up there quite a bit. We were almost talking about having an X-rated version of Cheaterville. It's amazing how many pictures we can't put on the website. We strip out anything that would put someone's safety at issue," McGibney said.

Every time the site makes the news in a different city, McGibney says the next day thousands of new posts come pouring in.

The whole process takes minutes; create a profile with any name, upload a picture and tell a story as long or short as you want. Then, up it goes for the whole world to see, and if the number of web hits is any indication, it is being seen a lot.

"We're not judge or jury. We don't define what other people might consider cheating. We leave it up to the people posting to determine what they consider to be cheating. Many of the people do it to warn others. And really if you look at a company like Facebook, I could post a cheater on my wall and, whether it's true or not, Facebook is not gonna intervene to remove that. It's just not for us to determine if something's true or not," said McGibney.

Attorney Hank Fasthoff with the Adams & Reese law firm told Local 2 McGibney and Cheaterville are not in any way libel for the things people post on their website, true or not.

"Cheaterville is going to be classified as an interactive computer service and as a result of that they are able to take advantage of a section of the Communications Decency Act which provides immunity to certain types of online service providers. It basically exempts them from the application of all sorts of tort laws like defamation, invasion of privacy, negligence and that sort of thing. So most of the time what happens is the people running the website don't respond, or they respond and say we are not taking it down; we don't have to. They know they are on very solid ground, so they allow third parties to post anonymously," said Hank Fasthoff, an attorney at Adams & Reese.

Even if the posting is not true, Fasthoff said one's options are limited and expensive.

"If a case like that were to go to trial, you could easily spend six figures in attorney's fees and costs litigating a case like that all the way through trial. The only person you can sue is the person who posted the accusations. Cheaterville can be included in the lawsuit only up until they reveal the name of the person who posted the accusation," he said.

Even if the post cannot be taken down, Fasthoff said there are ways to help protect your reputation. If the picture being used on the post is from a company website, then it is a trademark violation which means the company can request the picture be removed. If it was taken by someone other than the poster, the owner of the picture can request the removal. In this case, a different federal act can come in handy.

"Intellectual property laws, such as copyright or trademark, come into play. For example, somebody has posted a photograph of this person, and the copyright of the photo is owned by someone else. That person has the right to send a certain type of notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act demanding the photograph be taken down, and, according to Cheaterville's rules of operation, they do follow the notice and takedown procedure under that statute," said Fasthoff.

It doesn?t take a professional photograph to get this copyright protection. If you or anyone other than the accuser snapped the picture being posted on your camera or even taken on your phone, then it is a violation of copyright law.

The top and favorite posts on Cheaterville all have pictures, so getting the picture removed may help hide the accusing post from curious web browsers.

A few recent additions to the site do give the accused cheaters a chance to be heard. Now Dr. Drew Pinsky is holding what he calls Cheater's Court on his syndicated talk show, Life Changers. From a posting on Cheaterville?s website, it will soon be offering this sort of "he said, she said" opportunity on their own website.

Fasthoff says another service offers a less public way to arbitrate.

"The individual does have another remedy that, at least, Cheaterville offers. I don't know whether other sites do this or not, but there is a company called Truth In Posting. It provides a private arbitration service which allows an offended person to submit a complaint to truthinposting.com. Based on the submitted material they will make a decision about whether or not the content should be taken down, and, if the arbitration service says it should be removed, then Cheaterville has agreed it will take it down," said Fasthoff.

Another option Fasthoff suggests is a reputation service, like reputation.com. These services use methods to push the Cheaterville information further back in internet searches. So instead of Cheaterville being the third item in a search of an accused's name, it could pop up five or six pages back.

"Clearly Cheaterville is not what the U.S. Congress had in mind when they enacted the Communications Decency statute. There have been calls from some corners that the statute should be amended to provide some sort of limitation about what is or isn't allowed. It is important to remember the intention here is the first amendment which is freedom of speech, so that is what serves as the cornerstone for this immunity," said Fasthoff.

McGibney sees his website as a service to the community. Whatever you want to call it, one thing is obvious: it is big business. In the last year the website has grown from just posting pictures of cheats to a whole new village called Cupidville, which offers a way to meet other people to date. Ads on the website now range from background checks on prospective dates to services which promise to find out who is searching you.

"As distasteful and reprehensible as it is, this guy from a money generation standpoint has an ingenious business model," said Fasthoff.

And one McGibney is surely profiting from.

"Cheaterville started with the best of intentions to oust cheaters, and maybe there are some people who use it for malicious reasons, but once again we're not the judge and jury to decide if that's the case. The best thing a cheater can do is reply directly to that post, and, if it's not true, he should reply that it isn't true," said McGibney.

The word "she" should be added to McGibney?s last sentence since he told us 80 percent of the posts are accusing women of cheating.

"There are a lot of things on the internet and in life that are plainly unfair, but I'm not sure what's unfair about posting a known cheater and paying it forward for someone else, especially for their safety, but that's just the way it is," said McGibney.