Sian Norris, a leading reporter of women’s rights, was forced to contact a number of porn websites to remove accounts following emails addressed to usernames including “commie s***” which were set up in her name as part of an online revenge attack.
Ms Norris told The Independent the abuse began after she reported on a predominantly US subculture dubbed the trad wife movement, which involves couples conforming to an ultra-conservative vision of traditional 1950s-style gender roles.
Now the journalist says she is worried that deepfake images - explicit images or videos which have been manipulated to look like someone without their consent - were used to create the accounts.
Ms Norris, who wrote Bodies Under Siege: How the Far-Right Attack on Reproductive Rights Went Global, explained she has studied the far right and setting up sex worker accounts is a tactic they wield to “shame and shut up women”.
Discussing the ordeal, she said she received emails from porn websites and a page hosting strip shows known as cam girl sites while sick with Covid last September. She also received an email from an African publication after her details had been used to create a profile called "commie sl**" with them.
Ms Norris initially thought she had been hacked so immediately emailed all her journalistic contacts to alert them to the potential breach in her security.
But she quickly realised her email address had been used to create porn profiles in her name, she added.
Ms Norris said the profiles were likely to have been provoked by an opinion piece she wrote for The Guardian about links between the trad wife movement and the far right which went viral in ultra-conservative circles a couple of months beforehand.
The trad wife movement sees women eschew careers to serve their husbands at home as they champion the role of a housewife.
“Around a month or maybe two after that article got published, one of the big US far right Twitter influencers tweeted the article and there were just so many tweets about it,” she added. “Hundreds of tweets with all the classic things that far right activists say about you - that you are a bitter twisted crone.”
She said the creation of the sex worker profiles felt like a “step change” from rude emails and abusive, vitriolic tweets to suddenly something that “felt much more invasive and dangerous”.
The journalist added: “It is always shocking when things that you write about happening happen to you. It is a violation and it is really horrible behaviour.”
Fortunately, the accounts were never formally set up as the platforms required her to verify the profiles, she added.
“I'll never know what was on those websites, but there's the potential that there were photoshopped images of me or people writing stuff about me,” Ms Norris added.
“Because of deepfakes, even if an image of you that is explicit or revealing doesn't exist, you can still be targeted. That did make me feel really vulnerable.”
Ms Norris said contacts of hers had experienced “dark stuff” perpetrated against them by the far right but she was unable to provide details due to concerns about revealing their identity.
She explained the process of emailing platforms to notify them of the fake accounts was confusing - adding there were “gaps” in the safety protocols of the sites.
The journalist concluded that an attempt to sexually shame women and see women’s sexuality as something which can be targeted or weaponised was at the heart of the attack against her.
“That links to how the far right thinks about women and sex - that women are just objects to shame and to own,” she added. “I can laugh at it because it's one of those things that is so bizarre that if you didn't laugh at it, you would cry about it. But it doesn't mean it is any less serious.”