TheDirty.com publicizes awkward moments, embarrassing situations

Cronkite News Service:
Mike Martinez
Published On:
Thursday, October 16, 2008
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When Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart and friends socialized with some co-eds in his backyard last spring, people around the country wound up sharing the experience via photos, including one of Leinart holding a beer bong for a guest.

Jason Dolence, an ASU political science major, got the same treatment when someone took a picture showing him standing in his underwear while a fraternity brother threw up in a toilet.

“It wasn’t one of my proudest moments,” Dolence said.

This publicity came courtesy of TheDirty.com, a Scottsdale-based Web site that features pictures and commentary, submitted anonymously, documenting embarrassing situations and offering sometimes-graphic assessments of the personal lives and physical attributes of those pictured.

“This is possibly the ugliest girl at ASU,” a contributor writes below one photo. “I see her out at clubs and vomit in my mouth every time.”

The site began as DirtyScottsdale.com, covering Scottsdale and ASU, and has expanded, fueled by the Leinart party pictures, to feature submissions from dozens of cities and colleges, including UA.

Nik Richie, who founded the site in 2007 and offers his own comments on submissions, said what he does is 100 percent legal and provides a public forum. His real name is Hooman Karamian, but he goes by the pseudonym he uses on the site.

“If someone’s got a picture and they want to get it out there, I will take the risk,” Richie said. “There has to be that voice in any kind of media or press.”

Richie calls himself the “first ever reality blogger.”

“I was thinking to myself, reality TV is such a big thing right now, but there’s nothing out there that’s reality Internet, so let’s try Dirty Scottsdale,” he said. “Scottsdale is kind of dirty; there’s a lot of fake money here and everybody thinks they’re somebody that they’re not.”

Richie said he doesn’t worry about being sued because all he’s doing is commenting on photos submitted by other people. He also won’t fight with those who demand that he remove posts.

“If someone is really upset and they want their image taken down and they feel threatened, I take their image down,” he said.

A review of one day’s submissions to TheDirty.com found dozens from around the country, including 12 from ASU, and from some cities in Canada and Europe. The site has sections featuring posts involving professional athletes, cheerleaders and fraternity and sorority members.

Dolence, the ASU student, said he was offended at first by the post showing him in his underwear and including Richie’s comments suggesting the scene resembled a specific sex act. But he didn’t ask that the post be removed and said he remains a fan of TheDirty.com.

“It’s absolutely hilarious,” Dolence said. “You get a kick out of the comments that people write.”

Retha Hill, director of ASU’s Gannett New Media Innovation Lab and former vice president of BET Interactive, the online unit of Black Entertainment Television, said people should be aware that it’s become easy for others to document and share their actions via the Internet.

“People have always gossiped about each other, but now that each individual has the technology to broadcast images and gossip to millions of viewers, people need to be more careful about what they do in public,” Hill said.

Joseph Russomanno, an associate professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication who specializes in mass communication law, said Richie isn’t liable for third-party content on his site. However, Russomanno said, that protection goes away if the site alters a photo, something Richie occasionally does by zooming in.

Richie himself wound up with unwelcome publicity recently when a drunken-driving arrest and guilty plea to misdemeanor DUI removed his veil of anonymity. Media outlets published his booking photo and noted his real name.

Richie said it would be unfair if he didn’t get the same treatment as others on his site, so he posted the photo and police report on TheDirty.com.

“I made a mistake and I had to own up to it,” Richie said. “I would be doing a disservice to my fans if I didn’t call myself out for the same things I call other people out on.”

Many of the hundreds of comments about Richie’s arrest were dirty to say the least. Some focused on the fact that his real name sounds Middle Eastern.

“Nasty, greasy, short, skinny TALIBAN … please find a match and a can of gasoline and light yourself on fire, OK?” one comment said.

Richie said it was eye-opening to take a virtual beating from a group he calls “The Dirty Army.” But he said he found the comments humorous and didn’t take any of them seriously.

“If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?” Richie said.