The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy, and Reputation
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The Internet has been romanticized as a zone of freedom. The alluring combination of sophisticated technology with low barriers to entry and instantaneous outreach to millions of users has mesmerized libertarians and communitarians alike. Lawmakers have joined the celebration, passing the Communications Decency Act, which enables Internet Service Providers to allow unregulated discourse without danger of liability, all in the name of enhancing freedom of speech. But an unregulated Internet is a breeding ground for offensive conduct.
At last we have a book that begins to focus on abuses made possible by anonymity, freedom from liability, and lack of oversight. The distinguished scholars assembled in this volume, drawn from law and philosophy, connect the absence of legal oversight with harassment and discrimination. Questioning the simplistic notion that abusive speech and mobocracy are the inevitable outcomes of new technology, they argue that current misuse is the outgrowth of social, technological, and legal choices. Seeing this clearly will help us to be better informed about our options.
In a field still dominated by a frontier perspective, this book has the potential to be a real game changer. Armed with example after example of harassment in Internet chat rooms and forums, the authors detail some of the vile and hateful speech that the current combination of law and technology has bred. The facts are then treated to analysis and policy prescriptions. Read this book and you will never again see the Internet through rose-colored glasses.
100. I have not blogged there— or anywhere— since.”2 31 32 The Internet and Its Problems Posters on a white supremacist website targeted Bonnie Jouhari, a civil rights advocate and mother of a biracial girl. They posted her child’s picture and Ms. Jouhari’s home address. The site showed an animated picture of Ms. Jouhari’s workplace exploding in ﬂames next to the threat that “race traitors” are “hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post.” Posters included bomb-making instructions
They added Star Wars music to the video. Others mashed it up with other movies. Dozens of embellished versions were created. The Star Wars Kid appeared in a video game and on the television shows Family Guy and South Park. It is one thing to be teased by classmates in school, but imagine being ridiculed by masses the world over. The teenager dropped out of school and had to seek counseling. What happened to the Star Wars Kid can happen to anyone, and it can happen in an instant. Today, collecting
story about the rape. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the paper’s right to publish her name, where the paper had obtained the information lawfully, the information was truthful, the crime report (if not the identiﬁcation of the individual by name) involved a matter of public signiﬁcance, and there were no compelling state interests mandating criminal liability of the newspaper.33 As Florida Star itself indicates, First Amendment free speech protections are not absolute, but tolerate
the possibility of liability. But there is a less often identiﬁed chilling effect as well: without privacy rights, individuals may fear for the consequences of their behavior, and hew to a safe path, a path not likely to draw controversy or scrutiny in the decades to come. This implicates an autonomy interest, but also a speech interest: individuals may share less information privately as well. The Supreme Court recognized this possible risk from inadequate protection of privacy in its recent
the only reason to think government ought not protect against such harms is that government actors have too many obvious incentives to overreach in placing restrictions on speech.2 Since cyber-cesspools are in large part beyond the reach of regulation by the state in America because of constitutional protections, a number of commentators3 have suggested enhancing private remedies by, for example, making intermediaries— those who host blogs or perhaps even ser vice 155 156 Speech