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Cyber Harassment and the Law
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Cyber-bullying is too mild a term for some of what goes on in the rougher corners of the Internet.

When anonymous online attackers went after two young women at Yale Law School, it had the feel of a gang beating. Maybe worse. Brutal. Obscene. Relentless. And done, it seemed, for fun.

Now the women have pushed back in the courts. Defendants say it’s not their attacks but free speech that’s really under fire. The case may change what you can and cannot say online.

This hour, On Point: Mob psychology, harassment on the web, and how one case may change the rules.

You can join the conversation. Have you seen it? Bullying? Harassment? A mob attack online? Can it, does it, go too far? What about free speech?

Guests:

David Margolick, contributing editor at Portfolio magazine. His article “Slimed Online,” about the case of the two Yale law students, appears in the March issue.

Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland. She has written extensively on cyber harassment and the law.  

Anthony Ciolli, University of Pennsylviania Law School graduate and former administrator of the online forum AutoAdmit.

Marc Randazza, attorneywho represented Anthony Ciolli.  He has commented on the case on his blog.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • greg Weiss

    I just checked out that site… apparently a notiroius poster on that site just got his full name and address revealed.

    http://www.autoadmit.com/thread.php?thread_id=940436&forum_id=2#11000526

  • PC Jones

    It obvious the statements aimed at these ladies are egregious and if something could be done that would be fine. But to what aim will the line be drawn? Sexual, race, satire.

    Will this extend to the locker room or some idiots dorm? The task seems honorable, as well as difficult, but enforce spread beyond the chat rooms of the virtual and into the real room, real world of life.

  • Charlie

    My employer told me – after hiring me – one of the first things they did after looking at my resume was to “google” me. Luckily, nothing bad came up and I have made it a point to make all my “social networking” sites private.

    I feel for these women- but even still- believe we need to keep speech free. But free speech should not serve as a way to decimate someone without some sort of transparency.

  • Vanessa

    Isn’t this just a version of names on bathroom (men’sroom) walls?

  • http://smartalicewebdesign.com Alice Gebura

    My local newspaper is privately owned, as is a web site. The editorial staff doesn’t print defamatory hearsay yet still honors the right to free speech. Why aren’t web site owners also acting as rational, reasonable publishers?

  • Dawn Livingston

    Your rights end where others rights begin.

  • Raymond Saloomey

    As far as free speech advocates go, if you won’t sign your name to a comment and be responsible for it, don’t post it! Irresponsible, unfounded, or false statements should not be protected. Anonymity of posters in this case is simply protection of absolute cowards. If it’s something I wouldn’t say to the person face-to-face, I just wont say/post it.

  • Brynn

    Two years ago one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra, stopped blogging after an anonymous comment graphically described sexually assaulting and murdering her and her mother. Freedom of Speech shouldn’t cover anonymous comments on the internet – a lot of the problem is no one can be held accountable for their actions. So sure, you can say whatever the hell you want about anyone, just as long as it can be traced back to you.

  • cyd robbins

    hi, i am listening. why do we need special laws for the internet? this sounds like LIBEL AND SLANDER! why dont those laws apply here???

  • Bonnie

    Where does law enforcement come down on this? Is there evidence of men, in particular, following through on threats to women — especially when their addresses are posted? This is frightening stuff.

  • Laurie

    Because “these cyber-predators moved on” we can afford to dismiss the damage that’s done? “Let it go? Let it drop to the bottom?”

    Thank you, Ms. Citron, for taking this seriously and for pointing out the gendered nature of these attacks.

  • Colin McEnroe

    Another (less pitiable) group of vulnerable people are content providers. I love David’s work, but I wonder if he would be so sanguine about locusts if a group of trolls decided to colonize the comment threads on his articles and call him a hypocrite, a loser, a no-talent. Possibly even threaten him. Attribute to him statements he never made. What is Portfolio were not willing to scrub all those comments? This has happened to me as a newspaper columnist, and many of these comments — because the Topix company only supplies limited moderation — stay appended to my work. Possibly forever.

  • http://laligallery.com Ed Cobb

    Anonymity is the problem. Give people free speech, but make them take responsibility for what they say.

  • Pat Singleton

    One of the guests says this is a new kind of discourse that we will “get used to.”

    I hope not.

  • Karen Cordano

    It is interesting that the men named in the suits were referred to as being “held up”. Isn’t that what was happening to the women at Yale? What other recourse was available to them?

    The idea that the daughter of the caller who was “smart” and just let it go in reference to the comments were made about her on the website so the commenters would just move on? The fact that Mr. Margolick and Randazza think she did the right thing? That is just crazy and insulting. This is about women being objectified and I bet if it was happening to women close to these men they might feel differently.

    And I do believe in free speech, and I don’t know what the right answer is in any of these situations.

  • christine shepherd

    whether or not these comments were “frivolous” or a true threat, i am deeply disturbed that it is acceptable to joke about rape in this society. that should NOT be okay.

    what does it say about us as a society that joking about violence, particularly sexual violence, directed towards women, is tolerated?

  • Laura

    I agree what happened to these women is unfortunate and incredibly mean spirited. But people will always say mean things about one another…the internet is just another more public aspect of that (bathroom wall, locker room, high school, even a catty office).

    I’m afraid if we start censoring we won’t stop.

  • George Kelly

    Dear Tom,

    Middle Schools are cruel places because each person is changing and they are afraid of what they look at each day–they want to hide, be safe, and under no circumstances, do they want to be singled out–for ill, good, praise, or criticism. Middle School lasts for at least 15 years–so you wind up at Yale–afraid, and all of your insecurity can vent on the internet. You can stay anonymous and stick it to someone — just like someone did to you in middle school.

  • Colin McEnroe

    I think it’s also worth noting that, in journalism, we’ve inverted the old model of letters to the editor, in which the interesting, well-argued ones are often culled from the junk, in which there is often an attempt to achieve some kind of balance and in which, yes, the writers are required to identify themselves. Nobody seriously thinks this amounts to a curtailment of free speech.
    Topix and other comment threads work the other way. Topix prizes anonymity because the company’s worth is based on high participation. And anonymity seems to boost participation, particularly if you count a crude two-word post exactly the same way you would count, for example, this comment.

  • Mark

    How would the harassment be treated if it was racist in nature and the threats involved burning crosses?

  • David

    I am a regular poster to a site, ebaumsworld. Yeah we like to have fun, but we don’t condone invasions although they do happen.

    Although people need to also know when they put an identity online that they subject themselves to any type of criticism or attacks.

    Image boards and random boards are different than specific websites to attack people.

    Anyone who takes postings on those boards as fact are looking for issues and attention. That’s why websites have administrators, to wade through the junk that people post.

  • Ken

    So I’ve been listening to the arguments on this program this morning and to my mind some of them frankly aren’t worthy of being on this high quality show. It boils down to–”oh, it’s the nature of the internet that people can be juvenile and silly.” Bull. If a woman on the police force were subjected to constant catcalls and “I’d poor syrup and that and eat it up,” we’d call it a hostile work environment and the employer would lose in court. The argument being advanced here is no different from “lady, if you want to be on the police force, get used to it, boys will be boys and all that.”

  • Colin McEnroe

    I also agree with Karen Cordano. It is a mistake to let stuff happen to you and do nothing about it. In fact, the surest degradation of our precious right to free speech will come if we allow people to abuse it and do nothing.

  • Anon.

    I have been the victim of sexual harassment on AutoAdmit. Although it was not violent or vicious to the same degree as what these women experienced, it was emotionally devastating. Even after the posts were removed (Jarret Cohen, the remaining owner and administrator of AutoAdmit, was extremely helpful and kind about removing posts at my request) I ended up in therapy to deal with the emotional trauma of being verbally sexually assaulted in such a public sphere. I am still finding that some posts come up in my google search results, and even after 8+ months, I’m still trying to clean up the damage to my reputation.

    What concerns me about labeling this stuff as libel and slander is that it opens the door to posting true but private information without fear of reprimand. While what was posted about the female law students was harassing and threatening, posting that a woman prefers certain sexual dynamics is damaging whether or not it is true. This falls under a different category within privacy law, called “public disclosure.” Basically, we have the right to be left alone if we so wish. If you’re interested in some more info about this, just look up United States Privacy Laws in Wikipedia.

    What is disturbing about harassment online is that it is often very easy to hide and very difficult to figure out who is to blame. Many sites no longer keep the IP addresses of their posters, making it nearly impossible to track who has posted what. I find it immensely disturbing what people are willing to say when they don’t think they will be held accountable.

  • antonio japa

    There has always been “talk” about women (and men). Now it is just a lot faster and gets to a bigger audience. One has to be careful to not limit everyone’s freedom to protect an individuals freedom.

  • Mischa

    I fully agree with Ms. Shepherd, these cruel and cowardly acts should not be tolerated. What about adding “cruelty and slander” to punishable offenses to honor codes at Universities? We should expect more from our young people and not excuse this type of ugly behavior.

  • Caroline Alper

    I believe in free speech but the line has to be drawn when comments threaten a person’s well-being, emotionally or with physical harm. It is also important that defamatory lies should not be allowed; they wouldn’t be allowed in the newspaper.

    If someone sent a letter to one of these women with the same extreme comments, a police investigation would ensue. Why does the internet become exempt?

    The biggest problem is the anonymity – Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen) can be confronted about his opinions. These anyonymous posters can’t be confronted nor investigated.

  • Megan

    How could David possibly trivialize what these men are saying by using the excuse that he’s not part of the cyber generation? Well, I just turned 22 which I guess makes me part of the “cyber generation,” and in my opinion this slander is absolutely unacceptable and despicable.

  • Professor Linda Gray, Union Institute & University

    The serious concerns expressed in this program and on this comments page about free speech, libel, slander, and the nature of anonymous comments are ancillary to the root cause, which is a tolerance in our culture (and perhaps others as well) for violence against women and children in all its forms. We protect endangered animals with more vigor and better effect than we protect women and children in this country.
    This leads to inescapable conclusions. After more than 200 years of reform and civil rights movements for many different segments of society, we have not solved the problem of violence against women and children. We are forced to conclude that our culture, government and law enforcement efforts encourage, rather than discourage, this violence.
    Is it too radical to suggest that women and children in this culture are endangered? They are in more danger when a man is in the house than when no man is there. They are more in danger from family and friends than they are from strangers. The costs of this danger (psychic, economic, lost wages, insecure children, therapy, and emergency room, rising insurance premiums, rising public health costs, the costs incurred by law enforcement and advocacy groups) is enormous.
    Not only have we failed to protect women and children, we have tolerated rapes, murders and assault as the final solution for many.
    Cyber bullying and other forms of intimidation are the tip of the iceberg of this seemingly intractable societal failure.

  • Nancy Galloway

    I am shocked by some of the opinions I just heard. So, a bunch of guys standing around watching a group rape would be innocent because standing is not a crime and they were just having fun?
    There must be restraints. A doctor or a lawyers career could be ruined out of vengence or jealousy. Just as new laws have to be crafted to deal with on-line verbal limitations, so does a new etiquette have to be taught and enforced.

  • tom f

    I caught the last 15 minutes of this.
    One thing that sticks out to me was Ms. Citron referring to the two women as “being bloodied” by the online attacks. This is hyperbole to some, a lie to literalists. Much in the same way someone saying person X is “a lying bitch” might be seen as truth to some, a lie to some, and a cowardly remark to some.
    Or I might say “Lawyers are the most reprehensible people on the planet. I wish someone would kill them all.”
    Free speech is, unfortunately to some people, a 100% thing. Once it gets a bit pulled back, it’s not worth much. And censorship always seems like a great idea to the one doing the censoring.

  • Joan

    I support free speech, but I do not support this anonymous posting of sexually explicit, homicidal statements. I strongly support the elimination of anonymity in cyberspace. There is a huge difference between expecting a woman on a police force, or a construction crew, or a law class, to develop a tought enough skin that every sexist comment doesn’t knock her off her feet, and expecting the same woman to interact daily with men who have been posting sadistic comments about her. The latter is incredibly damaging, demeaning and unnecessary. What do the posters gain from this imbecilic behavior?

    With the greater freedom of the internet and related public forums comes the obligation of greater responsibility.

  • Eric LeVasseur

    After hearing the show, I had a few comments. Firstly, the gentleman that kept referring to the former Yale law students as girls was innappropriate. By labeling them as such, and in conjuction with the defense that was given of “Boys will be Boys”, this “boy” mimimizes their pain and suffering and condones this behavior. This type of rationalizing is why the rape culture in the US is so strong. It doesn’t matter if they were exceptional and succeeded in spite of these attacks. That is the type of victim-blaming that is involved in sexual violence. “It doesn’t seem to be affecting her, so it must be ok”. I applaud different perspectives, but we as a society need to look at the way men treat women and why we are not shocked when it is violent.

  • Sue Scott

    Appalling stuff. primal misogyny rears its head. I had thought the kids were better. gang mentality in our dear country, objectification: a culture that made Abu and Gito possible.
    Every science, business, even ‘hairy’, informal net biz and entrepeneur forums I’m on requires professionalism. Even the car forums will take down unrelated threads. Let’s be real.
    The reporter and plaintiff’s defendant don’t realize that kind of harassment continues in the mind, heart and confidence of the person. Interesting that the fellow who tried to help the problem was caught in the crossfire.
    I agree with some comments above– cowardice is the operative word. As the AG reminded us, cowardice is part of the procedure of middle class bias and unfair attack. I’m a 30 yr black and Indian alum of the ivies. — the same weak m.o. ones sees. I’d like to see Bonnie’s daughter and others mount their own flame attacks– with courtesy and truth. As is– dear sir, what is the size of your equipment? etc. A nation of warriors, and dishonorable ones?
    IP tracking isn’t feasible or advised. We still haven’t turned back many provisions in the Patriot Act. When I go to conspiracy sites, to see what the uncensored news people, or the crazies, are thinking– I don’t wish to worry about some gov’t flack.
    You can get at this problem by requiring strict accountability from the forum owners. I spend much time online and I run businesses there. Owners make money from traffic– they dang sure should earn that pay by keeping discourse civil and on topic. Don’t have the time? Hire a few interns for free. They’ll enjoy it; and learn something about the general level of discourse.
    It is very easy to protect whistleblowers. Distinguish among attacking a person, an institution, or a person fulfilling their formal role. It is very easy to allow a person to defend themselves against defamation, and to take personal threads down. You can write these into law, and/or get formal voluntary compliance to certain principles. This is how organic food standards began. a NOFA for forum owners. To begin: the ability to rebut statements; the requirement to provide full contact info if you want to post personal info or lies about someone. Have you noticed, we avoid changing ‘things’ in modern society by the convenient evasion that certain steps are difficult?
    If you want to talk dirty– go find an porn site (which I hear from Mashable are losing popularity. Strange. The issue isn’t sex, ya know. Feminism (or racism, etc) 101– the issue is power and bullying. It’s boring. Talk back.

  • Cynthia Cohen

    The men who participated in this discussion, especially the man who referred to sexual threats involving rape as “shtick,” should have a discussion with Nicholas Kristoff, who writes about the trauma of rape for women specifically in the Third World; and then they should do some community service at a rape counseling center. Being threatened in such a way is not like a guy in a bar rambling about hitting someone, and since when is that harmless? Often guys in bars who ramble about hitting, actually do exactly that. It is also completely inappropriate to assume that just because the women got good jobs, no harm was done.

  • Laura

    Online discussion threads are basically online conversations. They are not credible sources of information (i.e. a newspaper). If we could sue people for hurting our feelings (in our real non-online lives), I think we all would have been involved in at least a few lawsuits. Any CREDIBLE threats of physical violence should be addressed by existing laws.

    Gender should be irrelevant in a discussion of online censorship vs. online harassment. It’s an unfortunate separate societal issue that bleeds over into this area. Men can be harassed too and implying women need special protection implies weakness.

    I don’t think what happened to these women is okay. It’s was in poor taste (and says some very nasty things about human nature). But what is even worse, is starting to decide what content is acceptable and what will be pulled (doesn’t China do this?) Who gets to decide? The KKK is disgusting but has a right to exist.

  • Troll

    I thought the discussion today was pretty amusing. Obviously offensive homicidal stuff being posted is unacceptable, but being sued for saying, “I’d pour syrup on it,” is utterly ridiculous. Next we’ll have to watch out who we stand next to with a “I’m with Stupid” shirt on.

    That 50 year-old widow was a perfect example of what happens to people who don’t fully understand what they’re doing on the internet. Discussing politics is, along with religion, are among the top no-no’s unless you’re looking for a fight.

    I am not sure how many of you know what a “forum-Troll” is, but for all you old fogies (pretty much anyone 28ish+) it’s someone who purposefully posts incendiary comments, because it can be pretty hilarious when others don’t understand that the troll is saying things just to provoke the people taking it serious(see Borat, or any other comedic persona).

    To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if those who were provoking that 50 year old widow weren’t some teenagers having a grand ol’ time (aka trolling).

    The Borat analogy used today was perfect in describing a lot of the persona’s people use while trolling, but using a persona is probably something most of the Mom’s Of America wouldn’t understand leading to the majority of these reports being greatly exaggerated.

    It’s hard to believe how unguarded people allow themselves to be through the internet.

  • Nancy Goodspeed

    I do not recall being so appalled by a program on public radio.
    -On an issue that primarily victimizes women, three out of four guests are men. Who to a “man” trivialize the effect cyber-bullying has on women. As Swift once said: “Last week I saw a woman flay’d, and you will hardly believe how much it alter’d her person for the worse.” Someday I would like to meet a woman who has never been physically or verbally abused because of her sex, and who has never changed her behavior, her aspirations, her life because of it. I do not think such a creature exists on earth.
    -After trivializing his female audience, your guest goes on to insult the younger generation by (1) assuming they are the only ones who engage in this behavior (2) stating that this is something “we might have to get used to”. (Why didn’t he just say: “Boys will be boys”?) Here’s news: men of all ages engage in the sport of defaming women for fun. The only difference is that it is easier for cowards to be anonymous online.
    And why, pray tell, should we have to get used to it?
    This behavior should not be tolerlated any more than any other form of hate speech. It is no different than using the N-word.
    And yes, there is something we can do about it. Expose and sue.

  • Anon.

    To Laura, and others who think that Heide Iravani and Brittan Heller (and, by extension, myself) are being too thin skinned in not ignoring these types of harassing posts:

    Clearly you do not understand the emotional distress that this type or harassment causes. Saying that these threats cannot be actualized is ignorant. For months after these threats against me were posted, I stopped dating because my name is unusual and anyone googling it would immediately know that these posts were directed at me. I feared that someone might take them as license to act or simply make assumptions about my sexuality.

    Free speech *is* limited; we are not allowed to make threatening statements, and yes, the KKK has been censored at times. Free speech is not license to harass, threaten, or otherwise emotionally disturb others. Assuming it does is cruel and simply incorrect. People, especially those who are not public figures, have the right to control the dissemination of personal and private information about themselves.

  • Liberty

    For the past eight years, we have been told that we must give up our freedom to stop “terrorism.”

    Those who truly respect liberty have pushed back and said that it is not worth sacrificing our freedoms. The truth is that those in Bushco consider the First Amendment to be an awful thing and wanted an excuse to make it meaningless. Nobody on this website would have agreed with the Bushco plans to destroy the Constitution.

    Now that those days are over, do not believe for a moment that the enemies of the Constitution have been vanquished. They just come from the other side now. Now that they come from “our” side, we are all as complacent as sheep.

    Those on the left have always been more hostile to free speech than anyone else. As Bushco sold us this made up terrorist threat, the loony left wants to get rid of free speech so that nobody will be “offended.” Free speech is only free speech when it gets through their “sensitivity training,” and through their political correctness filter.

    The First Amendment means that we can be mean, nasty, and brutish if we choose.

    It is better to choose to be nice, but it is not nice when it is no longer a choice.

    Then, it is tyranny.

    I am willing to suffer being offended by some nasty words if it means that I can continue to speak my mind. Too bad that some idiot academics in their ivory towers want to take both away from me.

  • Liberty

    Nancy,

    Why say “Boys will be boys”? I bet if you looked at juicy campus, you would find out that most of the nasty comments there were by women in sororities who were having little fights with other sorority girls.

    Girls will be girls too. Being nasty is not a gender specific trait. Nasty is nasty.

  • Nancy Goodspeed

    Hey Liberty, why don’t you use your real name?

  • Liberty

    Because I am supposed to be working and if my employer saw my name with these date and time stamps it would be obvious that I am not. Why don’t you use yours?

  • http://onpointradio.org willie pearson

    This is not so much about free speech as it is our culture’s growing habit of avoiding responsibility. The current financial crisis would not have happened had more people taken responsibility for their actions, rather than trying to game the system. Anonymity has its place when it is a matter of security, but not in these senseless personal attacks. Say whatever you want on the internet, but be prepared to defend it with your name.

  • Rudro

    *free speech is not equal to anonymity*… anonymity is what encourages cowards who form a mob. this is true not only on the internet, but also on the streets. when someone abuses you on the street, you and the rest of the community gets to react to that and form an opinion of the abuser – would the faux or confused advocates of free speech recommend that the abuser be granted exemption from this?

    there needs to be a way to legally trace back to the commenters within a specified period of time. as for people who are wondering if the government can misuse this power: the last eight years showed us that they are going to do that anyway, if they want to do so. IP addresses for posters at non-secure sites can be monitored by any reasonably motivated organization (like the CIA, etc). it’s time that the honest arm of the law gets this power, too.

  • Laura

    I DO think cyber bullying can be incredibly painful and I would never tell anyone to “suck it up”. People can be cruel on and off the internet (and feelings do get hurt). I just don’t think you can legislate niceness.

    However, threatening someone’s life or physical violence online should be treated the same as it would in person. It’s different than calling someone an a**h*le.

    My concern is when the government/legal system starts patroling the internet and removing “inappropriate” content. We often tend to push things too far: the Patriot Act and the the McCarthian era are good examples of relying on fear instead of reason. I only hope, whomever decides this case treads carefully.

  • Laura

    As far as anonymity goes…What about a sexually abused child who posts asking for help or advice? There are always exceptions that need protecting.

  • Anon.

    I don’t think the issue is really about the government patrolling websites and censoring them. The issue is that the current legal system protects the perpetrators, rather than the victims, and site owners hide behind that rather than facing the potential wrath of posters on their sites by removing harassing posts.

    The issue of anonymity is totally different for a victim than it is for a perpetrator. Any person who has been sexually abused and needs help should not be held to the same standards of disclosure as someone who has committed the act. This is a basic tenet of our legal system.

  • Logic101

    Dear Ken-

    Can you possibly think of a reason why your analogy between people voluntarily posting on an internet message board and police officers working together might not be apt?

    fail

  • Tiger

    4 to 1 listeners are more interested in internet culture than the peace creeps…is the Obamagasm over? Does Liberty Mutual have an opinion on the use of their sponsorship?

  • Jenny

    Sexualizing isn’t regarded as threatening by men, it seems. But let’s face it, the average man would love to have some anonymous person blog about eating them like ice cream. So fellas, the guy right after the ice cream wants to sodomize you violently. Isn’t that great? Right after that is the guy who wants to smack you. And I think he likes in your neighborhood!

  • Greg Hill

    I was just listening to the show and tried to call but it was too late. I wanted to give a tip to the caller from Nashville who has been trying to get her name off a certain website. Go to http://www.betterwhois.com and put the domain name of the site in and she can discover in the record who is hosting the site. Hosting companies tend to be much more sensitive to potential liability and will err on the side of caution and remove a site they believe may cause them trouble. I have had dozens of sites shut down for as simple a reason as posting copyrighted images belonging to clients of mine. Always go to the hosting company first and, if that doesn’t work, go to the registrar of the domain name and try the same thing. If it’s a reputable company like Register.com or Network Solutions they will most often shut down the domain name itself and in that case it won’t be able to be hosted anywhere. Hope that helps.

  • E

    I am stunned and sad and enraged by how dismissive david and marc were about the horribly abusive comments that were posted about these women. how can they possibly claim this is part of a new generation or a new environment, and that we of another generation just have to understand? would they feel the same way if an elderly person who grew up during segregation stood on a sidewalk and yelled “ni**er” at every passing african american? or one who grew up in germany during World War II yelled “kill jews?” would they understand these people are just part of a different generation and a different environment?

    the postings read were abuse. it is that simple. and women being told to just be quiet so the “locust” will move onto a new victim is yet another example of blaming victims. it is allowing this type of attack to become normalized.

    since victims cannot protect themselves, we have an obligation to protect them. any language that would be a threat in person should be deemed a threat on line. owners of websites should be obligated to monitor and remove such threats within a reasonable period of time, and posters of threats should be held liable in whatever way they would be if they had made the threat in person.

  • J Verbick

    Those women had no choice in whether or not their name would appear with such horrendous, slanderous, demeaning comments. Those who posted those comments had a choice to remain anonymous. Where is the equality in rights for the victims? Employers should also have access to those who are of such poor character that they post such garbage. If you believe in the right to free speech, you had better be willing to put your name behind you words.
    I was especially angry and sad to hear the “boys will be boys” attitude stated throughout the discussion. The internet is an element of society and should be bound by the rules of civility and law.

  • Sherman M.

    The impact of online comments should not be underestimated, particularly in other (overseas) communities as this tragic story illustrates:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/world/asia/03actress.html?fta=y

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    E,

    You wrote: “I am stunned and sad and enraged by how dismissive david and marc were about the horribly abusive comments that were posted about these women. ”

    Perhaps that is because we are more familiar with the case than you are.

    The “victims” here are not as innocent as their supporters would ask you to believe. You’ve heard one side of the story. Review this side:

    http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/IravaniComplaint.pdf

  • (Mr.) Sandy Untermyer

    Tom,

    Let me say that I don’t see any conflict with “free speech” and holding people responsible for what they say.

    Online or anywhere else.

    ______

    Let’s put it this way: what if you post lies about me and I kill you?

    In fact, before you tell me that there are laws against killing people, I need to remind you that there aren’t.

    There are laws against deliberately ruining someone’s reputation with lies, but there are no laws against my killing you.

    There are laws against murder, yes — but I didn’t kill you until you incited me to the act, and I acted only when and only because you harmed me and my family and I found no legal way to stop you, and when I requested you stop, you refused to quit.

    That’s not generally considered murder under our system. That’s generally considered a form of self-defense.

    You see, I acted only to prevent your doing me and my family additional harm. And there existed no legal way to prevent your doing me and my family irreparable harm. Which you continued to do, over my pleas.

    I can hear you from over there: “Now, wait just a minute here….”

    Yeah, well, too bad. You’re dead. Talk all you want, now.

    ________

    If I buy a fishing license, that doesn’t mean the state can’t tell me: you can’t keep the ones under 12″.

    If I own a car, that doesn’t mean I can drive it whenever I want to, with or without a license — let alone drive it while drunk and run over children.

    If I own a computer, a scanner, and a printer, that doesn’t give the right to run off as many $20 bills as I want.

    So, how come the same people who would never argue with a ticket for going 150 mph in a 25 mph school zone, or causing a riot by shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, or using a licensed firearm in a burglary are now yip-yip-yipping about ANY limitation to “free” speech on the Web?

    Whoever said unfettered speech was “free”? That’s a ridiculous idea!

    Go read the Bill of Rights again. You missed something important, dude.

    You know, it was believed that, as Thomas Paine put it in Common Sense, governments were only necessary, not desirable, since societies aren’t governed by a moral sense, as individuals are.

    With that in mind, here is what the Bill of Rights says about freedom of speech: Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    “Abridging” means (Merriam-Webster, the legal definition) “deprive, or to reduce in scope : diminish.”

    Q. How does publishing lies just to hurt a private person diminish (or deprive someone of) freedom of speech? A. It doesn’t and besides it’s illegal.

    Lies that destroy a person’s life, Tom? Illegal.

    Lies that would be actionable if printed in a book, or a newspaper, or a magazine? Illegal.

    More illegal, in fact, than my killing you in self-defense.

    _________

    Now go back to my first question: if you are destroying my life and my children’s lives and my wife’s life while the law gives me no other recourse, I may have to do what I need to to save them, and myself.

    Q. What right do you have to stop me from killing you, if I’m killing you in self-defense? A. No right. You have no right to stop me.

    _________________

    I’m going to tell you something, friends.

    There is only one reason for the law of society: to keep people from pursuing “justice” and “honor” on their own. From carrying out extended “self-defense” vigilantism.

    If the law doesn’t step in to protect people from injury from extreme harrassment, then there won’t be any law to prevent the inevitable self-defense that must follow.

    So, I’m not saying if, anymore. Not about someone getting killed. I’m talking about when. Because it will happen.

    First, there will be blood. Then, there will be law. That’s the way human beings do it, the way human beings always do it. The way we always have done.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Judith

    I was shocked as I caught the last 10 minutes of the program. I had not been aware of the problem of cyberharassment, but that is not what shocked me. I was shocked at the attitude of all the male guests on the program. The harm done to women was minimized and the responsibility for dealing with it was given to the victims. It was incredible. I thought we had left those perspectives on sex crimes behind years ago. And yes, they are crimes. “Boys will be boys” is not applicable here. Anyone who has been bullied in any way, but especially sexually, will tell you that words can indeed hurt you, and sometimes scar you. If someone is afraid and has to modify the way they live their life because of it, how can anyone say “they should just get over it?” How do you think women who have been sexually assaulted in childhood or as adults and who already are barely able to present a functioning appearance are going to react to being cyber-assaulted with words, threats, and are being watched in a predatory way? They at least have a right to know their attackers. And the fact that the perps will eventually move on to someone else just means more victims. After they have moved on, do you really think the victims can just move on? Think again, misters. Tom, I sure hope you are reading the comments and noting how they are lining up along gender lines. Protecting my rights at the expense of someone else’s doesn’t sound like freedom, it sounds like selfishness. And if some of the perps are other women, it still doesn’t change a thing.

  • Nora Jaye

    Marc, whatever you think of the way the victims chose to seek recourse, they were – and are – the victims.

    They did nothing to deserve the kind of harassment and emotional pain that board inflicted on them – so exactly how are they not innocent?

    Look, Ciolli and Cohen *legally* made money providing a venue for such harassment. It was a filthy business to allow threatening and abusive posts to persist. But legal, right?

    Likewise, it’s perfectly legal to name someone in a suit, even if you don’t have a good case. In fact, it’s perfectly legal to pursue a weak case, even if it’s so weak it gets dismissed – after the plaintiffs’ real identities are public, of course!

    If the worst offenders can never be identified and the juvie morons who participate in such conversations have to fork over a few thousand bucks, well, maybe we need to change a bad law. But don’t blame Heide and Brittan for that.

  • Mitch Nash

    I applaud Mr.s Margolick and Randazza for making the observation about online “culture,” so to speak, being a wholly alien thing to the average NPR listener, as it was spot on. Listening to the program made me think of nothing more than watching the Utah legislature try to write the state’s liquor laws. A bunch of 50+ year old Mormons who’ve never had a drop in their lives telling the rest of us where, when and how much we can drink, then wondering stupidly at our not being “appreciative” of their giving us legal permission to drink at all.

    The thing about the internet is, though methods exist for one to retain the security of one’s identity, it really rewrites the definition of privacy. If an individual puts (her/him)self online, whether on a blog, a social networking site like MySpace or Facebook or even a service as simple as Twitter, (s)he has just put (her/him)self in the public domain whether (s)he intended to or not. By entering my real name in the corresponding field above rather than one of the online pseudonyms I usually go by, I’m doing the same, and I’m fully prepared for the backlash doing so may generate. It’s the nature of online communications.

    Yes, people sometimes say some truly awful and appalling things. Just about anyone who didn’t grow up with the internet as I did (and even a large number of those who did) doesn’t know the half of it. The censored comments relayed on the program were downright tame compared to most of the material one can find on 4chan (to say nothing of the other chans). Which isn’t to say I necessarily condone them, but they’re going to say that stuff whether I like it or not. Given the choice between growing a thicker skin and lobbying the government to move further down the path of censorship, I’ll take skin like leather any day. People could attempt to “teach me a lesson” by attacking me the way Ms. Heller and Iravani were set upon and it wouldn’t phase me in the least, because it’s just coming from “some guy on the internet.”

    In addition to that, online message boards and discussion forums are, as others have noted, the virtual equivalent of the locker room wall or bathroom stall. Every netizen in the world knows nothing written thereon should ever be taken seriously. It really is the online equivalent of a bunch of drunken frat boys making catcalls as they drive past people during Mardi Gras. The people they’re directed at may not appreciate them, but the only way it can really affect or hurt them is if they let it.

    The number of callers essentially stating, “I support free speech, I should be able to speak my mind, but those *other* people…” was absolutely mind-boggling. These people are suffering under the delusion freedom of speech exists to protect their right to speak their minds, when nothing could be further from the truth. The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect your right to free speech. It exists to protect the rights of those you disagree with and disapprove of.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    Nora,

    I agree that they may have begun as victims. But, a victim can turn into a non victim by seeking recourse in an unethical manner.

    And the “pain” the board inflicted upon them… I don’t fully buy it. Before any of this blew up, Cohen offered to take everything down (at least about Iravani) if she would address it with him over the phone. She refused. The posts stayed up.

    Months later, I was in a room with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Ciolli, and Heller & Iravani. Ciolli had been sued (not in a weak case, but in a completely baseless case). Cohen asked them to drop the suit against Ciolli, and in exchange he would a) take down every post, and b) give them some way to automatically detect if anyone ever posted their names again, and c) give them plenary power to take down any post with their name in it.

    They refused that… instead, demanding that Cohen institute a “notice and takedown” policy. Cohen even accepted this, saying that he would need 30 days to investigate claims. They insisted on 14. Cohen compromised at 21. They insisted on 14. Cohen told them that the bidding was over.

    So, forgive me if my initial compassion evaporated after watching that kind of behavior. I got the distinct feeling that either they were, in some twisted way, satisfied to be in the middle of this, were getting some external benefit, or were simply 100% irrational. I never did nail it down.

    Had H&I simply targeted their suit at those who were truly engaged in defamation and threats, not only would I still have sympathy for them, but I would imagine that Mr. Cohen would have aided them. Instead, they threw a temper tantrum, and now they are defendants in their own lawsuit.

    The whole thing is, indeed, a mess. But, much of the mess is of their own making.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Cyber harassment can be more nuanced.

    I wonder how far the people who post negative views of On Point’s Jack Beatty could go before On Point would delete their posts as slanderous?

    Joan Walsh goes through this at Salon almost every week in her blog there. During the primaries Clinton and Obama supporters all but drew blood, each other’s blood, while McCain supporters stood by and watched. In the process Joan got called all kinds of names and it was sickening to see how people quickly descended into uncivil discussion.

    These kinds of discussions can quickly devolve into a bad place when they take place online. I doubt seriously the Jack Beatty “haters” would voice those same opinions if they were on the show with Jack live on a Friday or, sitting in his living room.

    Virtual living rooms change things and not always for the best.

    I sometimes have people posting bad stuff on my blog and when I threaten to block them they yell free speech. Uh, hello, it’s my blog (living room) and anyone who comments on it does so at my discretion. Same with this comment thread. We’re on On Point’s territory here and they have a right, actually a responsibility to keep this a civil place.

    Posting slanderous things about Jack Beatty or anyone else is not a free speech issue, especially when it’s done on the On Point site.

    Oh, I’m 58 and an NPR listener so that should make me clueless about how the web 2.0 social internet has affected discourse but in fact, there are a few of us old farts who track this site and many others with iPhones and newsreaders and we blog, tweet, and all the rest.

  • Husky

    I was harassed and stalked online. The perpetrator is a 40 year old male. It is a fallacy that this is some new, young persons phenomenon. If these women should just “let it go” – will the potential employer or date just “let it go” when all this stuff turns up on Google? I think not. This stuff reaches well beyond the locker room and has devastating consequences.

    The damage is done and these perpetrators know it.

  • http://feminazi.wordpress.com m Andrea

    Silent “bots” with different gender designated names were placed in various chatrooms. These are the result directed at a “person” who didn’t say a word:

    • males names received 3.7 malicious private messages a day

    • neutral names received 25 malicious private messages a day

    • female names received 100 malicious private messages a day

    The female bots received on average 100 malicious private messages a day, exceeding by far the totals of any of the other bots, with the other attack types being roughly equal. It is interesting to note that the bots with ambiguous names received significantly more malicious private messages (on average 25) than the male bots (on average 3.7),

    http://www.enre.umd.edu/content/rmeyer-assessing.pdf Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier

    Kind of sad that some boyz are so dumb that they can’t tell the difference between what they say to two friends in private, and what is readily available to the entire world.

    Let’s be clear: 1) most of the perpetrators appear to be male, and 2) most of the victims appear to be female, and 3) the worst offense appears to be threats based upon gender.

    If these facts make some men look bad, the appropriate solution is not to demand that women “just tolorate bad behavior” but for these men to shape up and act like a human being. — or wear a dog collar if they really can’t control themselves.

  • http://www.keglawyers.com/blog Joe

    How can this be defended as free speech? It is bullying, plain and simple. If it would not be tolerated in print or verbally, then why should it be tolerated on the internet?

  • Nora Jaye

    Marc, we may have to agree to disagree on some of this – a victim is a victim, even if they choose to become a nasty plaintiff, as well.

    You say Cohen offered to take posts down, but my understanding was that occurred long after considerable emotional and reputational damage was done. At that point, the girls had nothing left to lose. I don’t know for sure, obviously, but I would assume that their goal at that point was to inflict as much damage as possible via lawsuits and publicity as possible in the interest of deterring posters on that or other boards from engaging in similar behavior. For that I’m grateful, however nasty they became.

    I once filed suit after negotiating for months to avoid it. I would have given up a great deal of what I was due legally to avoid filing. Once I realized I would have to go the legal route, compromises were off the table and I was out for blood. I didn’t care at that point whether I prevailed (I did – we settled for essentially everything I asked for) but I wanted to inflict as much pain and embarrassment as I possible could as a deterrent to similar behavior in the future. In my case, the law was clear. In this case, however, the law is very weak at protecting victims; embarrassment and publicity is really their only defense.

    Obviously, if the law required websites to kept a record of IP addresses – or if Cohen had chosen to do this – and folks who posted actionable content could be identified, this all would have played out differently. The only regret I have is that Cohen will go untouched.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    Nora,

    I can respectfully agree to disagree on point 1.

    With regards to when Cohen made his offers, I can’t tell you when the harm was done — but again, I am not convinced of the harm. Also, lets remember that nobody asked these ladies to drop their suit altogether: The only request Cohen made was that the suit be dropped with respect to someone against whom there was no legal or factual claim in the first place. The nasty commenters would have still remained in the suit.

    And, at that same meeting, Mr. Cohen offered to give all the information he had about these anonymous posters — something they also turned down because they didn’t get their 14 day window. That could have saved them considerable trouble, and it would have meant that resources spent finding the real defendants could have been used to actually punish them.

    Don’t get me wrong: When it comes to threats, harassment, and bullying, I am as against it as you are. It is objectionable and uncalled for, and even sometimes worthy of a legal response.

    However, in *this* case, I think the “victims” are not the best poster children for the actual problem.

    I have had victims of this kind of behavior contact me. By using mature, measured, and reasonable means, I have never had a board operator refuse to remove posts. I am very proud of those files, and it made me feel wonderful to help. But, when someone is merely “out for blood,” then that doesn’t deter or solve anything. It is even worse when the tantrum is focused on an innocent party — like in this case, when it was focused on Mr. Ciolli.

    The problem exists, but not to the same degree that the hysterics out there want us to believe. The problem needs to be solved, but we don’t burn down the house to roast the pig. Courts have consistently given up discovery to track down wrongdoers in cyber law cases — when the plaintiffs can show that they have a valid claim.

    Finally, before you send too much ill-will Cohen’s way, you may want to email him and ask for a list of all the people whose requests he has respected. He has never had a legal obligation to do so, but anyone who asked him respectfully got what they asked for.

    I know that demonizing the other side, looking at each issue as a binary problem, can really help focus an argument. However, be careful you don’t do exactly what it is you are so critical of — spreading misinformation about other people is something that neither of us wants to do (if I read you correctly). So, step back, learn the facts, and then perhaps our mutual goal can be achieved. But, that doesn’t happen by throwing wild accusations and frivolous lawsuits.

  • Azzadnar

    Marc keeps describing the first lawsuit as frivolous, but that remains to be seen. He’s basing his assertion on Mr. Cioli’s representation that he had nothing to do with posting or editing the misinformation. Even if that were true, it would be incumbent upon Mr. Cioli to defend the lawsuit and prove that to a jury. Why should they believe him after he acted like a total jerkoff when the girls appealed to him by email? Jurors will want to know why he was unsympathetic in his email responses to the girls, replying “Don’t talk to me about the board! Talk to Cohen about the board!” He should have said, “You’re right, ladies, this is horrible; I support your cause and I’m leaving the employ of AutoAdmit right away because I don’t agree with destroying innocent people’s careers.” Instead, Mr. Cioli continued to collect his check and support Mr. Cohen’s unattended cesspool. When it finally overflowed, the muck was all over both of them. Cioli knew the pernicious impact of AutoAdmit, but turned a blind eye to the plight of the girls so he could continue building his resume. Now he complains that he lost a lucrative position because of misinformation about his role at the website. The irony is immense. Jurors will find the moral narrative more compelling than those pedantic legal arguments about Mr. Cioli’s affirmative defense under section 230. That’s why his Philly lawsuit is a complete waste of his time.

  • Husky

    Sounds like Mr. Cioli isn’t a poster child either. Perhaps he should be told to just “let it go”. The irony indeed.

  • dhapmng

    You say that “it would be incumbent upon Mr. Ciolli to defend the lawsuit and prove that to a jury.” Perhaps he should, since you seem to be mean to him, file a lawsuit against you and Tom Ashbrook and against NPR. I mean, hasn’t this board allowed mean comments about him to be posted? He should also file against you for the defamatory comments about him that are on other boards. After all, it should be incumbent upon you to prove to a jury that you didn’t write it.

    Obviously you are a complete idiot. You don’t need to prove that you didn’;t write something — the other party has to prove THEIR case.

    Husky, on the other hand, might have a point. But Azzadnar is just an idiot.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Interesting how Mr. Randazza continues the assualt on the character of the women on this forum after doing his best to cast them as victimizers on the show. I wonder if Mr. Randazza has ever been a person who has written such posts online. One of the things I’ve noticed in my life, is that people who engage in such behavior, even when not in the same case, will participate in mental gymnastics to avoid admitting that the same behavior in others is unacceptable. It’s always interesting to note the lack of self-disclosure that is allowed on these programs.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Note, Mr. Randazza argues that the victims in this case are not “the best poster for the actual problem.” This reminds me of the arguement that prosititutes can’t be raped. Once upon a time, a woman had to prove she was a virgin to get a rape charge to stick. So, because the victims aren’t “pure” enough for Mr. Randazza, they should have let the issue drop. Mr. Randazza is periously close to sheer misogyny.

  • Azzadnar

    dhapmng: you’re right, Cioli doesn’t deserve extreme ire from the public. but as long as his former lawyer can come on here and his blog and accuse these women of somehow abusing the legal process, i can set the record straight by showing why that legal claim is absurd. i don’t know whether you’re one of Mr. Randazza’s student sympathizers or just someone who wants to provide cover as he pulls his foot out of his mouth, but in any event: epic fail!

  • Dissapointed

    The level of hyperbole in this thread and on the show is very disappointing. The threats of rape were disgusting. But no one’s career got “ruined” by people saying mean things about them on the internet. No one was “forced offline” as the female guest kept ridiculously asserting.

    To the non-tech-savvy listeners out there, here’s a rule to live by: “Don’t feed the trolls.” Some people on the internet are serious dicks. They enjoy harassing people for the sheer joy of harassing them. Of course that’s awful, and they shouldn’t do it, but without going farther toward a surveillance state than we already have, and incurring all the disastrous consequences involved with that, there’s nothing to be done about it. Except one thing: ignore the trolls. In real life, ignoring bullies is completely ineffective; online, it’s the best and only way. Fortunately it doesn’t take too many minutes to outlast the average troll’s attention span.

    Finally, if you’re worried about bad things coming up when people google your name, this is the only way:

    1. Don’t post personal information online that could be misused or stolen.
    2. Put good information about yourself online and make sure it gets to the top of the google list. No one clicks past the first page of results anyway.

    Lawsuits will go nowhere in the long run.

    To those of you who want to end anonymity and mean (read: free) speech on the internet, good luck. The collective intellectual might of nerdkind will oppose you, and we will win.

  • Dissapointed

    PS: Jack Beatty is fantastic! I especially enjoy Fridays because he’s sure to be on.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    Ellen,

    I don’t think you understood my point at all. I don’t think that they should have let it go because they were not “pure” enough to seek redress for any actual harm that may have come to them. That is everyone’s right. Of course, it may very well have served their interests better to do so, but that’s their call to make.

    My criticism of them is for filing suit against parties where there was clearly no legal or factual basis for doing so. My criticism also falls on them for refusing to admit error when it came to those who were wrongly sued.

    If you want to make this a rape anology, (something I find somewhat inappropriate) this is more like a sexual assault victim pressing charges against the actual assailant (justified) and also filing suit against the person who had a beer with the assailant earlier that day, the person who served the assailant his lunch, and the person who sold the assailant his shoes. It turns a justified action against a truly bad person into an absurd exercise that trivializes the assault, and which stops being a quest for justice. It transforms it into a temper tantrum and a lashing-out, which creates more innocent victims. When you want to fire a gun at someone, use a rifle with a scope. You don’t just chuck a grenade at a crowd where the bad guy is standing.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    Disappointed,

    You make some great points that I wish I had made myself.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    I see Mr. Randazza that you have not revealed whether you have ever participated in a cyber-attack? Nice, avoid the topic. I think that says a lot.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    That is an interesting question. First of all, define “cyber-attack.” Have I written criticism of others? Of course, please read my blog for many many examples.

    On the other hand, have I used anonymous postings to post untrue statements about others? No. Not my style.

    Nevertheless, the question is patently absurd.

    Now that I’ve satisfied your thirst for a denial, I think that this conversation has descended into an inverse-AutoAdmit type discussion, and I’ll spend my time elsewhere.

    Feel free to email me with any more questions.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Quite simply Mr. Randazza, have you ever made a statement about a woman online that you would not say to your mother or another woman you respect to their face? A simple yes or no.

    If you have, then you should have avoided writing this article. I believe the word is hypocrite for such behavior. I also see that you wish to terminate this line of questioning now that it has become uncomfortable for you.

    I believe my point about “mental gymnastics” of people who have dabbled in a behavior for which they must give commentary is a reasonable question and the disclosure of such would allow the audience to determine how much weight they should give to an author’s writings. One would not give a great deal of credence to a person writing about the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, if that person was say, a white supremacists. For a person to write an article on cyber attacks, who has actually engaged in such an attack or even made sexual comments on a board about a woman, disclosure should be required.

    For instance, I recall Chris Matthews commenting many times on how there was nothing to the whole firing of the Valerie Plame affair, for it to only subsequently be revealed that he was steeped up to his eyeballs in the affair. So, his every statement preceeding that event was now viewed as hypocritcal, self-serving and highly dubious.

    Nothing ever really goes away in cyber space, Sir.

  • Disappointed

    This is great; a teaching moment! Don’t feed the trolls. (Sorry, I can’t take anyone seriously who un-ironically uses the prefix “cyber-”.)

    Threads like this make me embarrassed to be a left-winger. As an earlier poster rightly mentioned, the right wants to attack free speech in the same of “security”, and some of us on the left want to eliminate free speech so no one gets offended. Both those angles are harmful, but the right can at least make the case that they’re fighting for something important. We just sound like the wishy-washy caricature the right constantly attacks.

    Anonymous speech on the Internet is very important. Whistleblowers, political dissidents, victims of sexual abuse (as an earlier poster mentioned), and many other groups need to be able to tell their stories without fear of reprisal. Having an online forum that allows anonymous speech guarantees that there will be some jerks behaving badly. But those jerks are a small enough portion of the online population, and the consequences of their attacks so minor, that their presence does not outweigh the benefits of anonymous speech.

    If forums are required to identify and track participants, someone will circumvent the tracking in about 10 minutes. Who would want to get into an unwinnable technological arms race with global nerddom?

  • Azzadnar

    disappointed: as a self-identifying member of the “nerdkind”, you must already know that the “don’t feed the trolls” mantra has been invoked for every bit of the last 15 years of internet discourse – to no avail. the problem with trolling has persisted since the time when internet message boards and chat rooms were restricted to the realm of topic-specific chat rooms, hosted by the internet service provider. in that environment, like today, trolls were defined by the fact that they simply could not be ignored and had to be censored or, in many cases, banned. the board moderator did that on a case-by-case basis and did not have to be a constitutional scholar to know what type of comments enriched the proverbial “market place of ideas.” the fact that the trolls needlessly disrupted a free exchange of human ideas precluded the post-nerddom theory that the rogue comments somehow promoted the virtues of free speech in a democratic society. the moderator promoted free speech by not permitting trolls to preempt the type of discourse that no sincere free speech advocate would ever disrupt. it was a common-sense approach to an age-old problem of how to have a conversation when someone in the room doesn’t want you to have the conversation: gag them or throw them out of the room.

    since that time, message boards have moved from moderated to merely hosted. the advent of Proxies (IP masks) has permitted trolls to attain anonymity that was unavailable under the seminal message board formats that are now obsolete. anonymity prevents common sense censorship by removing the troll’s virtual footprint and thereby promoting him to a ghost of sorts – a poltergeist. add that to the fact that moderating a site entails time (costs) that could be used promoting the site (benefit), and you have the perfect storm wherein trolls flourish due to anonymity and apathetic hosts.

    look, we can have a civil conversation here about the policy implications (largely economic) of requiring moderators to assume traditional moderator duties. likewise, we can have a productive discussion about whether anonymity has some value in virtual spaces like the internet. but we have to get past the defeatist and insensate view that trolls must be suffered in order to protect free speech. your hypothesis is disprovable and the evidence that free speech flourished in America prior to the advent on online anonymity is sufficient to refute it. hell, even Mr. Ciolli’s cost-shifting analysis allows for the uncontroversial, common-sense conclusion that trolls should not be countenanced in a society that touts the free exchange of ideas. See http://katzjustice.com/underdog/archives/1575-Bloggers-and-listserv-hosts-can-escape-liability-for-libelous-third-party-comments..html

  • Ellen Lincourt

    What I find interesting, even here, is how few of us are willing to invoke our real names. Even on a board of such a rational level, nicknames suffice. If you are going to put it out there, why not be willing to put your name on it?! But, of course, no one online can be sure that who I say I am, is who I am. Truth and honesty can both be born and killed by anonymity.

  • Azzadnar

    but Ellen, Azzadnar IS my real name. it just also happens to be Randazza spelled backwards.

    but seriously, if I were to same something defamatory, and a judge agrees that it’s defamatory, the website could be required to turn over my name under the court’s subpoena power. so there are few legal implications as long as posters stay within the boundaries of civil, lawful written discourse. on the other hand, there’s no rational benefit of revealing one’s real name to a group of online strangers involved in a passionate debate. i would be opening myself to viewpoint discrimination and harassment from the general public, clients, prospective employers, admissions counselors, and hot chicks who disagree with me. who wants to sign up to be a martyr for free speech? also, as you will learn at Mr. Randazza’s blog, some will invoke your identity – being a female for instance – as evidence against the objectiveness of your perspective. although that form of argumentation is pretty lame, it often persuades as it perpetuates stereotypes. in sum, Disappointed and i advise that you don’t use your real name on the internet; just keep going by Ellen.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Wait, so you’ve been posting under both nicks/names on THIS board. My! how disengenuous of you. My respect for you continues to decline by the moment.

  • Azzadnar

    are you serious?! well, Ellen, i’d rather lose your respect than to be a martyr for free speech. that’s the point, indeed purpose, of avatars and handles. if you think this one is over the top, wait ’til you see my profile at adultfriendfinder.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    Oy gevalt. I swore I wouldn’t return, but someone just tipped me off that “Azzadnar” is claiming to be me.

    No, it isn’t. I don’t know who that fool is.

  • Anonymous LS

    Re: Ken, on March 3rd, 2009 at 11:56 am EST

    Unfortunately, Ken, the internet is not an office place. The obligations that anonymous posters owe to Doe 1 and 2 are considerably different than the obligations a co-worker or supervisor owe to a co-worker of the opposite sex.

    Furthermore, we are completely ignoring the fact that Does 1 and 2 chose to maintain their own public websites (e.g., myspace, facebook, youtube). This is an invitation for public scrutiny. The internet is not a cocoon. If you don’t want people making fun of you, don’t go out of your way to share private information about yourself.

  • Marion Bloch

    The issue is the anonymity of the posters. We have, and always have had, libel laws, and libel has always been an accepted limit on free speech. If the posters were known, the women could sue them for libel and that would be that.

  • Anonymous LS

    Posted by Marion Bloch, on March 6th, 2009 at 3:37 pm EST

    If you read the complaint carefully, Marion, you will notice that many (or most) of the allegations would be factually insufficient to withstand at 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss defense on the claim of libel.

    Many of the allegations are, very literally, “I want to have sex with Doe 1.”

    This is not libel.

  • http://www.legalsatyricon.com Marc J. Randazza

    To turn the discussion in another direction: Here is an interesting idea to ponder… I wonder if this is part of the reason that flame wars start.

    http://www.bnet.com/2422-13731_23-241106.html

  • it’s a sad day

    We all have points that we feel are important. This is mine.

    Yes, we have the right to freedom of Speach. What’s even more interesting is that when one party is held by hippa laws and can’t dispute what is written. Now that is a sad day.

  • http://www.brunacostumes.com Bella

    Hi
    i was recently accused by the cranston police of cyber harrassing. I added someones name to a website to add visa and mc merchant service to her business. I work for a bank part time and a mortgage company. The lady complained she was getting a lot of calls and called the police. I never made a call to her . I put her name on a website to get out of debt and mechant service.O was arrested by the cranston police for this.I get at least 4 calls a day from the same websites. I did not do anything wrong and feel I was wrongfully accused.

  • http://www.vwattorneys.com Criminal Defense Attorney

    Looks like they picked on the wrong students.. Go Yale!

  • Bren

    It has been well over a year since the show on cyber harrassment has been covered and cyber attacks are worse than ever. Probably the most guilty company is Topix out of California. They don’t moderate their forums much at all and the attacks on people are just brutal. I have seen good people called pedofiles, drug abusers, rapists, etc. It is indecent and beyond ridiculous. That company makes a profit off of libel and slander. That is not what was meant by freedom of speech. We are supposed to be able to live our lives as private citizens without libel immediately going out over the internet. Topix makes money off of people’s misery and that is repulsive.

  • Marymasi Seo

    we have to need the conversation guys.

  • Lcrandall

    I am a high school teacher and have been teaching my student the etiquette of the internet, cyber bullying ect., did the law student every go to court over their harassment?

  • http://twitter.com/LisamccLisa lisa mccarthy

    after i left my my abusive ex husband he posted naked pictures of me online and sent them my children school, Doctor Office and to al my my employors. is the freedom of speach?
    i am now a shut in

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