A man accused of sexual harassment in an anonymous document is suing to reveal the identities of everyone who might have contributed to or shared the list.
Writer Stephen Elliott was among dozens of men named in the “Shitty Media Men” list, a publicly editable Google spreadsheet that circulated for less than a day last year before it was deleted. Although contributions to the list were anonymous, writer Moira Donegan revealed herself as its creator in an essay this year. Last month, Elliott published his own essay denying the allegations sexual harassment against him. Now he’s suing Donegan for $1.5 million in damages.
Elliott’s suit, filed in federal court on Wednesday, named Donegan and 30 “Jane Doe” as defendants. Those unnamed defendants are placeholders for women Elliott might sue, if he gets his hands on the list’s Google metadata, which could show who interacted with the document.
“Plaintiff will know, through initial discovery, the names, email addresses, pseudonyms and/or ‘Internet handles’ used by Jane Doe Defendants to create the List, enter information into the List, circulate the List, and otherwise publish information in the List or publicize the List,” his suit reads. “Plaintiff intends to subpoena the shared Google spreadsheet metadata for the List, email accounts, Google accounts and ISPs in order to learn the identity of the account holders for the email addresses and IP addresses.”
Google said they don't plan on handing over the information.
"We will oppose any attempt by Mr Elliot to obtain information about this document from us," a Google spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
That information might be inaccessible anyway.
“Google’s policy is to remove deleted Drive data within 15 days, absent some sort of legal hold,” Verge reporter Russell Brandom tweeted. “So unless the Elliott legal team got this going before November 2017, the data they want is long gone.”
Google’s publicly available information on data retention also suggest the data would have disappeared within months of the list’s deletion last October.
“When you delete data in your Google account, we immediately start the process of removing it from the product and our systems,” the company’s page on data storage reads. “We then begin a process designed to safely and completely delete the data from our storage systems. Safe deletion is important to protect our users and customers from accidental data loss. Complete deletion of data from our servers is equally important for users’ peace of mind. This process generally takes around 2 months from the time of deletion. This often includes up to a month-long recovery period in case the data was removed unintentionally.”
Even the backup versions are likely gone.“Our services also use encrypted backup storage as another layer of protection to help recover from potential disasters,” according to Google’s policies. “Data can remain on these systems for up to 6 months.”
The list, which had more than 70 entries, had a significant audience among media women, particularly in the New York area where Elliott is suing and seeking more defendants. That could include everyone from contributors to people who shared the document.
One woman, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, said she did not add any names to the list. But two men she said committed misconduct toward her were already named in the document.
“Not one but two men I knew were on the list for doing things they had done to me,” she said. She highlighted the names, which indicated that multiple women had made those allegations.
In its way, the list was an updated version of the whisper networks women have long used use to warn each other of harmful men in their industries, she said. But this digital form was broader, with the ability to reach more people.
“The list had wider reach than your typical ‘whisper network,’” she said. “Afterwards, some people talked about how the allegations against some men on the list were ‘common knowledge,’ which I think is indicative of the shortcomings of IRL whisper networks — if you’re not in the know, you’re fucked. This was definitely more accessible. But I don’t think it was too different from what women normally do, it was just more standardized.”
Elliott’s name was among the highlighted: men whom multiple people had accused of abuse.
“Rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into Binders???” Elliott’s entry read. (“Binders” refers to a Facebook group for women and non-binary writers.)
In his suit, Elliott denied all the allegations. He could not have sexually harassed women, he said, because he has written nonfiction essays about being sexually submissive.
“Plaintiff openly describes his sexual preferences in detail so that it is clear he could not physically participate in the false, unsubstantiated allegations published about him in the List by Defendants,” his suit reads.
He elaborated on the idea in an essay last month.“I was shocked to find myself accused of rape,” he wrote. “I don’t like intercourse, I don’t like penetrating people with objects, and I don’t like receiving oral sex. My entire sexuality is wrapped up in BDSM. Cross-dressing, bondage, masochism. I’m always the bottom. I’ve been in long romantic relationships with women without ever seeing them naked. Almost every time I’ve had intercourse during the past 10 years, it has been in the context of dominance/submission, often without my consent, and usually while I’m tied up or in a straitjacket and hood. I’ve never had sex with anyone who works in media.”
Shortly after his essay’s publication, his former colleague Lyz Lenz took to Twitter to refute his claims. Elliott had acted coercively toward her when she was his employee at a literary magazine she said.
Lenz, who has gone on to a successful writing career of her own, accused Elliott of groping and harassing her.
“Remember when I was an unpaid editor at your magazine and we met at AWP where you invited me up to your room to watch a movie and I declined?” Lenz tweeted. “But you didn't take no for an answer. You hounded me. I hid under a table.”
As of Friday afternoon, a GoFundMe for Donegan's legal fees had raised more than $60,000.