Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaks during a conference in Washington this month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The 2016 race has scarcely begun, and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz already has an image problem.

Typing tedcruz.com into your URL bar returns a black page that says “SUPPORT PRESIDENT OBAMA” in unequivocal all-caps. Tedcruzforamerica.com redirects to Healthcare.gov. TedCruz.ca confirms that the U.S. senator from Texas was, indeed, born Canadian. Tedcruz2016.com is pretty harmless — a carousel of scenic photos, with the promise that a real site is “coming soon” — but its owner has nothing to do with the Cruz campaign, and who knows what he or she is actually up to.

Never fear, Cruz fans: Your champion did eventually find an open domain name, in the cold and less-trafficked waters of the .org domain.

But the fact that his trolls conquered so much ground speaks to how popular this type of Internet tomfoolery has recently become. And in two short months, it’s going to get even worse: That’s when three of the most controversial new top-level domains — .porn, .adult and .sucks — are released to a merciless public. Taylor Swift already snapped up Web addresses on those domains to make sure no one uses them against her.

But as ICANN, the group that oversees and regulates domains, continues to make more of them available, the Internet is only getting bigger and more troll-able. New domains — .singles, .holiday, .guitars, .buzz, .gripe — have rolled out almost every week since ICANN began this latest round of domain expansion in October 2013. If you’re trying to protect your brand or reputation, good luck: T. Swift may have taylorswift.porn, but that still leaves taylorswift.sexy and taylorswift.pizza.


These are all of the new top-level domains that have been released since October 2013. Click to see larger version. (Courtesy Jason Davies’ Word Cloud Generator)

What is domain trolling, exactly? And how is it even legal? Given the strong anti-impersonation protections that most social networks supply, the ability to register an entire Web site in someone else’s name seems kind of … medieval.

And yet, there’s very little stopping jokesters, investors or less scrupulous entrepreneurs from buying up desirable Web addresses and either holding them for ransom or using them to straight-up troll.

“You can register anything you want in a domain name,” sums up Karl Kronenberger, a partner at the Internet law firm Kronenberger Rosenfeld.

Ihatethewashingtonpost.com? Yep.

Caitlindewey.sucks? Unfortunately.

These rules can vary by domain, of course, since each domain is managed by a different company. (Monolith Registry, the company that manages .vote and .voto, bans deceptive names and swears to vet all site registrants diligently.) And, to be clear, a lot of so-called domainers have legitimate business motives: They buy, develop and “flip” domains the way you would any other asset.

But even when domainers aren’t quite so upstanding, using their domains just to harass or troll, there’s not too much their victims can do. Kronenberger says that if a domain name contains a registered trademark, like Kleenex or Crock-Pot or “I’m Lovin It,” the trademark holder can file a lawsuit for infringement. But there are several variables you have to prove, and that process is expensive. Plus, since individual names are very rarely trademarked, litigation doesn’t help actual people. Not even famous ones. (Except, naturally, Donald Trump.)


(Nets.com, via the New York Times)

And thus domain-trolling proliferates unchecked. The 69-year-old owner of Nets.com has used that domain to tease the basketball team. JebBushforPresident.com is owned by a pair of self-described “bears” who use the site for pro-LGBT messaging. Surprisingly few trolls have gotten in on the Obama game — though you can sign up for a vanity inbox on obama.email. (Obama URLs that are still available, as of this writing: obama.cash, obama.zone, obama.reviews. Someone get that last one, the potential is huge.)

Clearly the moral of the story here is that there’s nothing like a good offense; if you want to save yourself future pain and annoyance, better buy up your domain names before someone else.

Alas, that’s getting more and more difficult as the 500+ new domains roll out. But Ted Cruz is running for president. He might wanna lock tedcruz.sucks down.

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