On Wednesday, just shy of a year after he says the “Shitty Media Men” list began making the rounds online, the writer Stephen Elliott – who was listed by several women for alleged “rape accusations and sexual harassment” – has filed a defamation suit against its creator, the journalist Moira Donegan, who has written for the Guardian, asking for $1.5m in damages.
Claiming their actions were “malicious in nature”, Elliott also included in his suit 30 “Jane Does” – the currently anonymous women who contributed to the list last year. He intends to identify them.
According to his complaint, filed in a New York district court, Elliott and his lawyer plan to subpoena Google metadata to obtain the identities of those who contributed to the list, uncovering their “names, email address, pseudonyms and/or ‘Internet handles’”.
Google told the Daily Beast it would “oppose any attempt by Mr Elliott to obtain information about this document from us”. The data is likely to be gone from the company’s systems anyway, the site noted.
Created in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and then burgeoning #MeToo movement, the list was intended to serve as a way for women in media to warn one another about potential aggressors in their workplaces. Anonymous contributors added names and allegations, and the crowdsourced Google spreadsheet quickly filled with reports of harassment, abuse, and other misconduct – all intended to be taken with a “grain of salt”, according to directions included at the top of the document.
The list didn’t stay secret for long and soon after a slew of articles were published, Donegan came forward as its creator.
“In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged,” she wrote in an essay published by New York Magazine’s The Cut. “The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation.”
Elliott, who vehemently denies the allegations that were listed under his name, says that inclusion on the list destroyed his career and caused depression. His suit comes on the heels of a personal essay, published in September, called How An Anonymous Accusation Derailed My Life, in which he describes his sexual preferences and how difficult his life has been since the list emerged.
Responses to the essay were swift, and included a tweet thread in which one of his former colleagues, Lyz Lenz, a writer for the Columbia Journalism Review and an array of other publications, detailed the ways in which she said he had harassed her.
“Since your name was on the list I have gotten so many emails from women talking about the harassment you put them through. I’m talking so they don’t have to,” she wrote.
Support for Donegan came quickly, and on Thursday a GoFundMe had been created to help cover any potential legal fees. In less than 20 hours, 1,275 people had donated and the fund had grown to over $63,500. “Moira Donegan did us all a huge favor,” the page’s creator, Lauren Hough, wrote in the description. “She made our world safer, and she has paid more than her share. Now she’s going to need some help.”
Elliott has aligned himself with the attorney Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who specializes in fighting sexual assault claims and who has raised concern over Title IX protections. Miltenberg made a name for himself representing hundreds of male college students accused of sexual assault, challenging what he has told reporters is a system that is unfair to men.
Donegan could not be reached for comment. On Twitter, she posted a link to the essay she wrote last year, saying: “I opened the spreadsheet a year ago today, and I wrote this essay, the hardest thing I’ve ever written, a few months later. I still stand by it.”