Five years after journalist Moira Donegan created a Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men,” wherein women could anonymously list allegations of sexual misconduct by men in the teleco and publishing industries, she’s facing the growing likelihood of having to defend herself at trial. On Thursday, a federal judge in Brooklyn rejected Donegan’s attempt to block a lawsuit brought by Stephen Elliott, the author of The Adderall Babies and About Cherry, who claims that he was defamed from a spreadsheet entry that stated he faced “rape accusations, sexual harassment, [and] coercion.” Elliott is seeking $1.5 million in damages for the alleged emotional distress.
It was not supposed to be this way at all. The spreadsheet, as Donegan once wrote in an essay, was created in Oct. 2017 to empower women to share stories of harassment or an assault without fear of retaliation. Created just weeks after the Harvey Weinstein scandal had exploded, and #MeToo was the hashtag du jour, the “Shitty Media Men” whisper network was intended to be a safe space for long-suffering, muzzled victims of horrific workplace misbehavior. “No one could be fired, harassed, or publicly smeared for telling her story when that story was not attached to her name,” Donegan believed.
But #MeToo, at least legally speaking, is as much a speech movement as a sexual misconduct reckoning—and unfortunately for Donegan, even anonymous statements can instigate lawsuits. Ask Justin Bieber, who recently settled a case he originally filed against Jane Does. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common to see libel suits follow accusations of sexual assault. This past week, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer filed suit against The Athletic over a story alleging he fractured a woman’s skull during a violent sexual encounter. The week before, Marilyn Manson sued his ex-partner Evan Rachel Wood and her friend Ilma Gore over a campaign to tar him as a sexual abuser.