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Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Danielle Keats Citron
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Hate Crimes in Cyberspace
    Book Description:

    Some see the Internet as a Wild West where those who venture online must be thick-skinned enough to endure verbal attacks in the name of free speech protection. Danielle Keats Citron rejects this view. Cyber-harassment is a matter of civil rights law, and legal precedents as well as social norms of decency and civility must be leveraged to stop it.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73561-3
    Subjects: Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    During the summer of 2008, “Anna Mayer” was getting ready to begin her first semester in graduate school. In her spare time, she wrote a pseudonymous blog about her weight struggles, body acceptance, and other personal issues. She enjoyed interacting with her readers and commenting on other blogs; it provided a support system and sounding board for her ideas.

    Before school began, she searched her name and found posts describing her as a “stupid, ugly fat whore” who “couldn’t take a hint from a man.” Anonymous posters listed her e-mail address, phone number, and dating site profiles. She received e-mails...

  4. Part One: Understanding Cyber Harassment

    • one Digital Hate
      (pp. 35-55)

      Like many other people, Kathy Sierra started a blog to advance her career. AtCreating Passionate Users, she wrote about what she knew best: software design. She drew on her experience as a trainer of Java programming skills for Sun Microsystems and as the author of books on software design. With humorous graphs and charts, she argued that the most effective and popular software programs were those that made users feel good about themselves.

      From its inception in 2004, the blog was a hit. It attracted vocal commenters, including some who were inspired by her advice and others who found...

    • two How the Internetʹs Virtues Fuel Its Vices
      (pp. 56-72)

      When Jeff Pearlman, a writer forSports Illustrated, began his career in journalism in the 1990s, readers rarely attacked writers’ intelligence or character. Though readers often disagreed with him, they did so in civil terms. Things have radically changed since then. His readers regularly take a nasty tone when commenting on his work online.

      Perplexed by the shift, Pearlman reached out to his commenters to figure out what was happening. After some sleuthing, he discovered the telephone number of Andy, who, in a tweet, had called him “a fucking retard.” When they talked, Andy was clearly embarrassed. He told Pearlman,...

    • three The Problem of Social Attitudes
      (pp. 73-92)

      In November 2011 the British newspapersNew Statesmanand theGuardianinterviewed female bloggers about their experiences with online abuse.¹ No matter their ideological bent, the women regularly “g[ot] called bitches or sluts or cunts” who deserved to be “urinated on and sexually abused.”² Anonymous commenters detailed “graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements” the bloggers would be raped.³ According to theGuardian, some of the “best known names in journalism hesitate before publishing their opinions,” and others have given up writing online because they could not stand the abuse.⁴

      TheTelegraph’s Brendan O’Neill called attempts...

  5. Part Two: Moving Forward

    • four Civil Rights Movements, Past and Present
      (pp. 95-119)

      In the past, spousal abuse and workplace harassment were dismissed as ordinary “family disputes” and workplace “flirting.” Women’s complaints were ignored because they “chose” to stay with abusive husbands and bosses. Domestic batterers and sexual harassers were protected because the home and workplace had special rules. While still a presence in society, these views are no longer the norm. What helped bring about that change?

      In the 1960s and 1970s, the women’s movement challenged social attitudes about domestic violence and sexual harassment. Feminist activists and lawyers taught judges, officers, legislators, and ordinary people about women’s suffering. They debunked the reasons...

    • five What Law Can and Should Do Now
      (pp. 120-141)

      Talking to the media, blogging about victims’ struggles, and fighting back online has taken us only so far. In this chapter I argue for the robust enforcement of law against cyber harassment. I begin with a brief overview of civil, criminal, and civil rights laws that could be brought to bear against harassers. Tort claims redress victims’ damaged reputations, privacy invasions, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. Criminal law punishes stalking, harassment, threats, extortion, solicitation, harmful impersonation, and computer crimes. Civil rights law redresses and punishes the economic, social, and psychic costs inflicted when individuals are denied the right to pursue...

    • six Updating the Law: The Harassers
      (pp. 142-166)

      In this chapter I offer suggestions for legal reform to enhance the accountability of perpetrators. On the criminal law front, harassment and stalking laws should be updated to reach the totality of the abuse, and revenge porn should be banned. Civil rights law should penalize online harassers who interfere with someone’s right to pursue life’s crucial opportunities—work, education, and self-expression—due to group bias. Pseudonymous litigation should be permitted so that victims can pursue redress without drawing further attention to the harassment. Recent developments in the fight against revenge porn suggest that state lawmakers may be amenable to these...

    • seven Legal Reform for Site Operators and Employers
      (pp. 167-189)

      Website operators and employers are important sources of deterrence and remedy. Congress should narrowly amend the federal law that currently immunizes online platforms from liability related to user-generated content. Site operators who encourage cyber stalking and make a profit from its removal or whose sites are principally used for that purpose should not enjoy immunity from liability. Extending immunity to the worst actors makes a mockery of the federal law designed to encourage self-monitoring by online service providers. Legal reform should also extend to employers who should give potential employees a chance to address online abuse before it can be...

    • eight ʺDonʹt Break the Internetʺ and Other Free Speech Challenges
      (pp. 190-225)

      People often bristle at the prospect of a regulatory response to cyber harassment. In their view, people should be allowed to say anything they want online because it is “free speech.”¹ Commentators warn that the Internet would cease to foster expression if law intervened. Regulation should be avoided because online expression would be chilled, end of story. But First Amendment protections and free speech values are far more nuanced than that. They do not work as absolutes. And there are speech interests beyond that of the harassers to consider.

      A legal agenda would not undermine our commitment to free speech....

    • nine Silicon Valley, Parents, and Schools
      (pp. 226-250)

      A legal agenda will take time. Cyber harassment and stalking, however, are problems with life-changing consequences for victims right now. What can be done today to protect victims and shift online norms while we engage in a society-wide recalibration of our response to online abuse?

      Besides legal actors, there are other potential partners in the fight against cyber harassment. Internet companies are already engaged in efforts to combat destructive online activity. Some companies closest to the abuse, content hosts, prohibit cyber harassment and cyber stalking. Facebook, Blogger, and YouTube, to name a few, do not view free expression as a...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 251-256)

    In the spring of 2013, the revenge porn victim started speaking publicly about her cyber harassment experience. The support of law enforcement and her attorney gave her the strength that she needed to speak out against the abuse. She no longer felt unprotected and alone.

    After talking to the media, she received hundreds of e-mails and comments on her anti–revenge porn site. Many accused her of being responsible for her predicament; they said she got what she deserved because she was stupid enough to share her nude photos with her ex. Didn’t she know any better?

    Recently she and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 257-328)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 329-330)
  9. Index
    (pp. 331-343)