Online Symposium: Citron’s Cyber Civil Rights

From tomorrow through Thursday, Concurring Opinions will be hosting a number of scholars invited to discuss Danielle Citron’s work Cyber Civil Rights. Responding to controversies over online attacks, Citron argues the following:

Social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack women, people of color, and members of other traditionally disadvantaged groups. These destructive groups target individuals with defamation, threats of violence, and technology-based attacks that silence victims and concomitantly destroy their privacy. Victims go offline or assume pseudonyms to prevent future attacks, impoverishing online dialogue and depriving victims of the social and economic opportunities associated with a vibrant online presence. Attackers manipulate search engines to reproduce their lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital “scarlet letters” that ruin reputations. . . .

Web 2.0 technologies accelerate mob behavior. With little reason to expect self-correction of this intimidation of vulnerable individuals, the law must respond. General criminal statutes and tort law proscribe much of the mobs’ destructive behavior, but the harm they inflict also ought to be understood and addressed as civil rights violations. Civil rights suits reach the societal harm that would otherwise go unaddressed and would play a crucial expressive role. Acting against these attacks does not offend First Amendment principles when they consist of defamation, true threats, intentional infliction of emotional distress, technological sabotage, and bias-motivated abuse aimed to interfere with a victim’s employment opportunities. To the contrary, it helps preserve vibrant online dialogue and promote a culture of political, social, and economic equality.

As I’ve noted before, I think this piece breaks new ground in applying venerable laws to the online environment. In this cyber-symposium, we propose to discuss the following issues:

What can the law do to respond to these threats?

How we deter harassment while promoting legitimate speech?

How do we balance the privacy rights of speakers and those they speak about in the new communicative landscape created by sites like AutoAdmit, Juicy Campus, Facebook, and anonymous message boards?

A list of scholars invited to discuss these issues appears below:

Ann Bartow

David Fagundes

Michael Froomkin

Nathaniel Gleicher

James Grimmelmann

Orin Kerr

Nancy Kim

Susan Kuo

Daithí Mac Síthigh

Helen Norton

David Post

David Robinson

As co-organizers of the online symposium, Danielle, David Hoffman, Deven Desai and I welcome these guests and look forward to participating in the discussion. We have decided to default to “no comments” for this cyber-symposium. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we tended to feel that, for this topic in particular, the costs of editing and/or responding to abusive or off-topic comments would likely be higher than the benefits of our usual default to openness.

As recent controversies have shown, it’s easy for online mobs to inflict real injuries on their victims–and women bear a disproportionate share of the abuse. Citron argues that “acting against these attacks . . . helps preserve vibrant online dialogue and promote a culture of political, social, and economic equality.” We look forward to an animated and insightful discussion on how to balance liberty, equality, and privacy online.

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