Duke Porn Star
7:15 am
Tue March 4, 2014

The Duke Porn Star: Three Waves Of Internet Shaming

'Belle Knox'
'Belle Knox' provided this self portrait to the site xojane.com
Credit Belle Knox

Update 3/5/14: In a new op-ed on xoJane.com, Lauren revealed her stage name and image:

“Today, I am choosing to reveal my porn identity to the world. My name is Belle Knox, and I wear my Scarlet Letter with pride.” Knox also gave an interview to Playboy magazine's website.

Here is our original story:

Last month, Duke University’s student newspaper, the Chronicle, published an interview with a 1st-year student who is also a porn actress. The student says she decided to do porn in order to cover the cost of Duke’s tuition. 

She goes by the name Lauren. She says her identity was made public by other students on campus in January, and she has since been trying to control the rumors – penning Op-Eds and appearing on news outlets across the country.

But on the internet, attention has been focused less on Lauren’s message, and more on her life. And what's resulted are three different waves of Internet shaming, each a little more questionable than the wave prior.

Level 1: Name Calling

Maybe it's no surprise that when someone is known to be controversial, they attract the ire of the anonymous Internet public. After her identity became public, people tweeted names like "filthy whore" and "slut" at Lauren's professional Twitter account. 

Of course, others have rushed to her defense. And most of the major headlines have been rather supportive of Lauren, or at least neutral.

But in the underbelly of anonymous college message boards, things got even uglier.

Level 2: Physical Threats

Lauren told me that men wrote publicly, saying they were going to throw trash at her on campus, and that she should go kill herself. While they won't comment on specific students, Duke University said it has a policy to reach out to students who might be drawing unwanted attention to make sure they feel safe.

Lauren told me there have been moments she's feared for her safety, but not enough to leave the school at this point.

Kelly McBride teaches newsroom ethics for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. She said in these situations, what can manifest is a "virtual lynch mob" out to shame someone for a perceived moral slight. That once the crowd picks up on a big news story, it can take off running. This of course, can lead to all sorts of dangerous situations.

Level 3: Trolling For Personal Information

The thing Lauren has been most shocked by is how much personal information people have decided to publish about her. We're not talking about typical news media - this again falls into the world of anonymous commenting.

I’ll say that with just a cursory search, I was able to find posts from people claiming to know her real name, the high school she went to, where members of her family work, and who posted photos of her from grade school. Of course, none of it is verified beyond the word of the anonymous poster. But in the absence of other information, people may accept what is available as fact.

In the end, both Lauren and McBride, of Poynter, see this type of activity as a method of control. Lauren has said she is trying to take control of her story -- trying to shape her own narrative. But by showing they know more about her, the online community is attempting to keep her from doing so. It's a digital power struggle between one woman whose livelihood depends on the Internet, and the anonymous mass using it to flex their muscles.

There's a fair question to be asked about whether or not, by doing porn, that makes Lauren a public enough figure to open her up to this kind of scrutiny. There's no easy answer. While the success of her persona certainly depends on the Internet more than the majority of people, most of America does have some sort of social/public presence on the web. And in the buzz of a breaking news story, that could open anyone up to the "virtual lynch mob," if one fact (like a name) is misreported (this happened in the immediate wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook).

Lauren has said that even her friends have told her that she brought this upon herself when she decided to do porn. But she's still amazed at why people think knowing where she worked before going to college is relevant. Whatever the case, her attention is certainly split for now. On top of the media attention, she has midterms this week.