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Yale Students' Lawsuit Unmasks Anonymous Trolls 668

Posted by timothy
from the hate-is-such-an-ugly-word dept.
palegray.net writes "Two female Yale law school students have used the courts to ascertain the identities of otherwise anonymous posters to an Internet forum, with the intent of prosecuting them for hateful remarks left on the boards. At a minimum, the posters' future legal careers are certainly jeopardized by these events. While I'm not certainly not supporting or encouraging hateful speech online, these controversial actions hold potentially far-reaching consequences for Internet privacy policy and free speech." According to the linked Wired Law article, "The women themselves have gone silent, and their lawyers — two of whom are now themselves being sued — are not talking to the press."
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Yale Students' Lawsuit Unmasks Anonymous Trolls

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  • :x (Score:5, Funny)

    by cushdan (949520) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:05PM (#24421581)
    I don't feel comfortable posting a comment.
  • by mark2003 (632879) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:07PM (#24421611)
    This is not a free speech issue - the posters made threatening and offensive comments, inlcuding suggesting that they would assault/rape the female students.

    These comments would not be tolerated in any other setting so why should they be tolerated online?
    • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:18PM (#24421831)
      Offensive speech is still free, so long as it is a matter of opinion and not fact. I can say 'John is a jerk' and be protected by the first amendment because it is not libel if it is my opinion of somebody. If I say 'John has herpes' (and he doesn't) that is libel because it's a demonstrable, objective state that can be proven to be untrue, rather than a difference of opinion. Threats aren't protected speech either. I don't know why this is a big deal, some people made threats and were given what they were due. I'd expect the same to be done to anybody who made threats. If it were just libel I might be more concerned, as the effects of libel on the internet are less clearly defined. Libel is more 'effective' between people in meatspace because of reasonable differences in the level of trust. I simply wouldn't trust every nasty rumor on the internet as a matter of what I would think of as common sense, but I might trust the same rumors from a close associate in person.
      • by keithjr (1091829) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @03:43PM (#24423329)
        I saw this more as a Clear and Present Danger [wikipedia.org] argument, although I am not sure if that is how it was presented. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, and so forth. Threatening to rape and murder a classmate is a pretty good way to have ones privacy justifiably suspended to ensure the safety of those threatened.

        People just need to learn that just because you said it on the internet doesn't mean the statement carries no weight.
    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:22PM (#24421905) Homepage Journal
      There's a big difference between saying "So-and-so's business practices are suspect" and saying "So-and-so gave me herpes and I'm going to kill them."

      This wouldn't be too bad if potential employers and romantic interests weren't so damn nosey -- imagine kicking ass in a job interview for a good position only to discover that you were turned down because your psychotic, jealous ex with a lot of time on their hands gamed Google(or created a fake MySpace page) and made you out to be a drunk, zoophile, or worse!

      Dosen't matter if the incendiary posts were written by people called "HitlerHitlerHitler" and "GoatseFan1" -- the hiring manager may think, "Hmm, he/she sure does have a lot of enemies" or "I'd rather not have all that controversy attached to somebody who works for me." Same applies to potential romantic interests.
  • Technicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:07PM (#24421617) Homepage

    Hateful speech is not illegal. False claims that substantially harm a person ARE illegal under slander/libel law. This law applies whether the comments are online or on the playground.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by spidercoz (947220)
      How were they "substantially harmed"?
    • Re:Technicality? (Score:5, Informative)

      by abscissa (136568) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:22PM (#24421907)

      Of course, world-wide, we have different laws.

      Hateful speech is not illegal.

      See R. v. Keegstra [hrcr.org]. In Canada at least, you do not have an unlimited right to free speech, even if you are not targeting a specific person.

      tl,dr: Making hateful statements against a particular identifiable group is illegal in Canada.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        tl,dr: Making hateful statements against a particular identifiable group is illegal in Canada.

        Unless of course the "identifiable group" happens to be Muslims and the person making the "hateful statements" in a national publication happens to be a Likudnik Zionist.

      • Re:Technicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DamnStupidElf (649844) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @03:00PM (#24422653)

        Making hateful statements against a particular identifiable group is illegal in Canada.

        Does it depend on the group? Can I hate lawyers, politicians, and statisticians?

        What about pirates, Real Pirates (the board-a-ship-and-kill-people kind), rapists, serial killers, or nazis?

        All of those are pretty identifiable groups. Which ones can I explicitly say that I hate? I want to be sure I can get through customs next time...

    • Re:Technicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by p0tat03 (985078) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @03:30PM (#24423139)

      From TFA:

      "I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly"

      This particular quote does not fall under hate speech (the legality of which varies), but this is a clear threat to physically harm a person. In this case IMHO law enforcement have every right to ascertain the identity of the person so as to better protect his/her potential victims.

      If you're not an assclown, your identity on a forum is safe. Nobody is going to pursue your identity in court for calling them "shitface".

  • I don't know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:10PM (#24421669) Journal

    This is a pretty straightforward bit of libel...Even on the internets you have to be careful if you're explicitly slandering someone by name.

    Illegal is illegal, and if these monkeys were dumb enough to put up all this crap under handles that they accessed from their homes, then they're screwed, and it's hard to see how they ought not be.

  • hmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:13PM (#24421727) Homepage
    This will almost certainly keep them out of the state Bar for a long period of time if not indefinitely. Even legally protected speech can be grounds for denial of bar membership.
  • 2 concerns (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kellyb9 (954229) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:16PM (#24421775)

    Internet privacy policy

    Expect none

    Free Speech

    Slander and libel are illegal

    Just about covers those two concerns.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657)

      Slander and libel are illegal

      For something to be called slander or libel, I think the accuser should have to show at least ONE person who believed it, AND damage done. If they can't, it's just derogatory remarks.

      If I said that Chief Justice John Roberts is an arsehole, that's clearly an opinion.
      If I said that Roberts has a forked tongue, that is clearly not libel either, because it's rather obvious that he doesn't (in a purely physical sense).
      If I said that Roberts has impregnated 74 women, it's not libel

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:16PM (#24421789)
    Slashdot sucks and all it's users deserve to be raped. Before you mod me flamebait, consider the implications of such an action. Ordinarily, on the internet, people are able to ignore the trolls. And we've all seen how many times non-troll comments get modded troll for reasons only apparent to the moderator. Although this comment is clearly flamebait, there are other cases where it isn't so black-and-white. I think this kind of decision by the court could allow abuse by anyone who wants to supress speech critical of them. I could see Apple's lawyers trying to use this as precedent to unmask people complaining about their iPhone development policies, for example.
    • Re:Slashdot sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tinkerghost (944862) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:20PM (#24423893) Homepage

      Before you mod me flamebait, consider the implications of such an action. Ordinarily, on the internet, people are able to ignore the trolls.

      AC's name is Dave Bubbleshits & he lives over in the blue house behind the college. He's a dumb bitch-ho who should be raped daily.

      There's a huge difference between anonymous flamebait directed at other anonymous people. These guys weren't directing it that way. They were giving specifics, in some cases names. This wasn't your normal trolling, this was cyberstalking & cyberbullying at it's worst. Done in person, it would be bad enough, but 4 years later, those comments are still the first thing anyone - including a prospective employer - sees when they Google these women's names. A libel is definitely called for here.

  • by Hyppy (74366) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @02:59PM (#24422649)
    The Washington law professor mentioned in this article, should be familiar to /. users from a previous work of his: "'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy" [ssrn.com]
  • Think bombs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuliginous (1059354) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @03:26PM (#24423091)

    If you leave a bomb anonymously we'd all want you tracked.

    Both hate speech and the bomb are an attack. So why not, freedom of speech shouldn't really enter into it unless what is said is true.

    So if they posted something true as a judge that would be my requirement. Show me that it is a lie in which case I'll pass the order to bring them to be held accountable. Otherwise if it is truth well pants you can't sue over the truth (can you?)

    Besides when was it freedom of anonymous speech?

  • Total 100% hypocrisy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lena_10326 (1100441) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:39PM (#24425057) Homepage
    Here's a time line:
    1. Anonymous posters libel Jane Doe 1 and 2 on the forum
    2. Website refuses to remove the comments on the grounds of freedom of speech
    3. Jane Doe 1 and 2 sue and discover the identities of the anonymous posters
    4. Jane Doe 1 and 2 sue anonymous posters, as well as add website administrator Ciolli to the suit
    5. Ciolli is later dropped on the grounds that ISPs and administrators cannot be held liable
    6. Ciolli sues Jane Doe 1 and 2 on the grounds of defamation

    Here's where the hypocrisy comes in.

    We know illegal felonious comments (threats of rape and murder) were allowed to remain posted on the website. We know the website administrators (including Ciolli) claim to have allowed those messages to remain posted in order to "protect" freedom of speech of the anonymous defendants. But why is freedom of speech OK in that case, but not OK when the Jane Does bring lawsuit against him? Was it because he suddenly found himself being dragged into the mix? Did he find out it was an awful thing having people making false accusations about him? Did he find out libel is NOT protected by freedom of speech after all?

    He got a taste of what it's like to be libeled, slandered, and defamed in a horrid way and then suddenly changed his tune. He wanted to deny the Jane Does the freedom of speech and their freedom to bring lawsuit, but he didn't appear to be concerned about the harm caused by the messages posted by the defendants.

    That's hypocrisy.

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