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Cyber Civil Rights

Guest Scholar
Danielle Keats Citron
Professor of Law
University of Maryland School of Law

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.
Today’s cyber attack groups update a history of anonymous mobs coming together to victimize and subjugate vulnerable people.  The social science literature identifies conditions that magnify dangerous group behavior and those that tend to defuse it.  Unfortunately, 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.

Steve Bellovin
Professor of Computer Science
Columbia University

Ira Bloom
Professor of Political Science
Lehman College of CUNY

Jamela Debelak
CLIP Leitner Fellow
Fordham Law School

Jeanne Fromer
Associate Professor
Fordham Law School

Wendy Gordon
Visiting Professor, Fordham
Professor of Law, Boston University Law School

James Grimmelmann
Associate Professor
New York Law School

Robert Kaczorowski
Professor of Law
Fordham Law School

Maria Marcus
McLaughlin Professor of Law
Fordham Law School

Marie McGonagle
Senior Lecturer in Law
National University of Ireland, Galway

Willajeanne McLean
Visiting Professor, Fordham
Professor of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law

Helen Norton
Associate Professor of Law
University of Colorado Law School

Frank Pasquale
Professor of Law
Seton Hall Law School

Joel R. Reidenberg
Associate Chief Academic Officer & Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Law & Director of CLIP
Fordham University

Daniel J. Solove
Associate Professor of Law
George Washington University Law School

Kathy Strandburg
Associate Professor
DePaul Law School