Sex, lies and the internet

23 Jul 2008

Tricia Walsh-Smith YouTube video

Dumped? Fired? Snubbed? Hurting? While there’s nothing quite like nursing a good old grudge, why hide your hatred under a bushel? It seems more and more of us are now thrusting our grievances into the light of the digital age and airing our dirty laundry online.

Take Tricia Walsh-Smith. You’ve probably been hiding under a rock somewhere, avidly planning the downfall of your ex, if you haven’t heard of her star turn on YouTube. But you should really have been paying more attention because Walsh-Smith is the poster-girl for online revenge gone stratospheric.

When she learned that her husband of 13 years, Philip Smith – who incidentally is president of the Schubert Organisation, the largest theatre operator on Broadway – wanted a divorce and planned to evict her from their New York apartment, and that there was a possibility that she would not be permitted any of the allowance granted to her through a pre-nuptial agreement until the divorce settlement was finalised, Walsh-Smith followed that knarly old adage and added a digital twist of her own: don’t get mad, get even … online.

So she sought solace on YouTube and posted a video outlining the difficulties of her situation. She also delved into cringeworthy marital details in a phonecall with her husband’s secretary live on the video: “I don’t know if you know but me and Philip never had sex. But ask him what he wants me to do the porn movies and condoms.”

Walsh-Smith doesn’t limit her fury to her husband either. She comments on her wedding photograph: “This is Philip’s oldest daughter, she’s the evil one. She wants my pension, she’s telling him what to do all the time. She’s a bad, bad, bad person.”

The video – the first in a series of three – was a hit and has garnered over three million views since its posting on 10 April 2008. In terms of online revenge, things don’t get much better than that. Walsh-Smith has upped the ante on e-venge and in doing so highlighted one of its greatest attraction – scale. Why limit the reach of your revenge to just over the next-door neighbour’s fence or an immediate circle of friends? With the internet, what was once private can become public – and intensely humiliating –  with frightening speed.

For his part, Walsh-Smith’s target, Philip Smith, maintained an online blackout and refrained from getting digital on his soon-to-be ex, preferring to pursue the matter through the courts with his accusation that Walsh Smith’s YouTube videos constituted ‘spousal abuse’ But others who have felt the force of online revenge haven’t taken the matter lying down and have engaged in tit-for-tat acts of digital retaliation.

If you thought getting dumped over the phone or by text message was bad, how about getting dumped on Wikipedia? In March of this year, Jimmy Walsh, co-founder of the popular online encyclopaedia, ditched his girlfriend, Rachel Marsden, via Wikipedia. The posting, in which he states “I am no longer involved with Rachel Marsden”, has since been moved to his personal blog.

But it seems it’s an eye for an eye online. Marsden retaliated by putting Wales clothes up for sale on eBay. Her sales pitch? “My name is Rachel and my (now ex) boyfriend, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, just broke up with me via an announcement on Wikipedia. It was such a classy move that I was inspired to do something equally classy myself, so I’m selling a couple of items of clothing he left behind, here in my NYC apartment, on eBay.

Marsden takes no prisoners: “Both of these items have been washed, twice, with Tide extra-strength liquid detergent. Otherwise, they would not be in salable condition. I took them out of GitMo-style isolation from a plastic bag in my closet (where they were placed to prevent the ongoing terrorism of my olfactory senses) and washed them out for the purposes of this auction.” Ouch.

Beware trysts on Facebook too. Composer Michael Nyman discovered this to his cost following an affair with Jane Slavin, whom he met on the social networking site. When the relationship took a turn for the worst, Slavin decided to get her own back by blogging about Nyman. Nyman is not named in her blog, The Facebook Diaries, but the character named Maestro is based upon him.

Slavin does not spare the sarcasm, the blog’s pages are fairly dripping with it: “I really didn’t mind that he was totally bald – I find that attractive. I would’ve appreciated it if he’d trimmed the hair out of his ears but figured it showed a huge amount of confidence that he would even leave the house with those great big grey bushes sprouting out of his head.”

Further revelations include a tightness with cash: “He refused to order a whole bottle [of wine], as it was just for me, so I settled on a glass, which, he informed me, cost £8.”

The pages also reveal Maestro’s penchant for soaps and daytime TV and anything is fair game, even Maestro in his quieter moments: “I looked around the room, the snores ricocheting off the walls and wondered could I live there. I looked down at the sleeping Maestro and felt fond even of the drool already crusting on his cheek.”

But although revenge can be a deeply personal emotion – and you don’t get much more personal than blogging the relationship crimes of your ex – often when it is unleashed online the internet does what comes naturally: it forms a community around it. One of the best examples of this is Don’, a social network on which women can post warnings and exposés of supposed love rats.

Although the site’s privacy policy states: “Please do not post addresses, social security numbers or any other personally identifying information about anyone to this service”, it is very possible to identify the guy who just charmed his way into your mobile phone on a speed date as full names and geographical locations (cities, districts) are often provided, not to mention accompanying photos. The majority of postings are from the US though, so you probably won’t find Derek from Dublin lurking amongst all those rotten love cheats.

Posts can be pretty full-on: “This man is just not a nice piece of work, he is a lying, insincere, self-absorbed and immature bastard. On the upside he is not particularly attractive so not many fall prey to him, but if you do happen to get to know this guy and think perhaps you should get involved with him – DON’T!”. Positive rejoinders often follow postings: “Girlfriend, you are better off without this ugly dog.” Not for the faint-hearted or no-count, cheating men.

As the internet continues to migrate to a more collaborative and creative framework, with more user-generated content than ever before, cue the proliferation of revenge, Web 2.0-style. It was only a matter of time until we got Tricia Walsh-Smith and she’s probably just the tip of the e-venge iceberg.

As we live more and more of our lives online via social networking sites, blogging and posting videos on YouTube, getting your electronic revenge becomes less a phenomenon of a digital age and more a natural destination to inflict maximum damage to someone’s reputation.

A recent incident in Sligo, for example, saw a young man take retribution for his girlfriend’s decision to break up with him by establishing a social networking site in her name and then sending nasty messages to her friends, who believed they were from the girl herself. The Gardaí, who were involved in the matter, reported that this was the second of this type of incident which they had dealt with in the recent past.

While there is undoubtedly a satisfying immediacy to e-venge – you can get blogging about a supposed slight or genuine insult within the hour – this speed, combined with the now macrocosmic reach of the internet into our lives, can prove an all too efficient form of vengeance.

While it’s a tempting proposition to serve your revenge piping hot right across the web, if you decide upon mature reflection that this was one dish best served cold, you could well end up suffering a bad bout of digital indigestion.

So if you’re the victim of a soured relationship, back-stabbing friend or a irate employer, you may want to consider cooling your heels. As the old saying goes, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” It might be a good idea. One for yourself and one for your computer.

By Jennifer Yau

Tricia Walsh-Smith’s YouTube video revenge