CCR Symposium: The Lulz Mob

I’d like to take up Orin Kerr’s question: what do we gain from using a “civil rights” frame that ordinary tort and criminal law frames don’t provide? As I suggested in my earlier post, I think the answer is closely linked to the the dead bodies–that is, to the factual specifics of the kinds of harassment Cyber Civil Rights discusses.

A central recurring theme of much of the harassment that Citron describes is undertaken for the lulz, the pleasure of “watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh.” Or, to quote from the Encylopedia Dramatica (Cyber Civil Rights is only the second law review article to cite that wretched hive of scum and villainy):

Just as the element of surprise transforms the physical act of love into something beautiful, the anguish of a laughed-at victim transforms lol into lulz, making it longer, girthier, and more pleasurable.

For the full effect, keep in mind that “something beautiful” in that passage is a hyperlink to the ED entry for “Rape.” The will to lulz is sadistic: find people online who you can hurt, and hurt them. Quite often, the targets are chosen specifically for their vulnerability: goad the depressed into suicide or put flashing animations on an epilepsy site.

This is where the civil rights angle reemerges. On the one hand, some of the most vulnerable people online are members of the historically subjugated groups that civil rights law traditionally has protected–misogynistic lulz fit into a long tradition of gendered violence. And on the other, civil rights law is particularly concerned about vulnerable groups, whoever they may happen to be.

I share much of Michael Froomkin’s concern about ineffective, unconstitutional, or counterproductive remedies. One of the most exciting things that Citron’s civil rights frame does, though, is suggest the possibility of nontraditional (from the perspective of tired Internet law debates) remedies. If the dynamics of a lulz-seeking crowd match those of a lynch mob, maybe we should be thinking in terms of how best to break up the mob. Grab a few people from the edge of the crowd, and either publicly shame them or do the virtual equivalent of looking them in the eye–steps like these might have more potential in breaking up the ugly group dynamics of the lulz mob than more traditional tort or criminal responses.

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