Danielle Keats Citron & David Super, Cyber Civil Rights

Danielle Keats Citron & David Super, Cyber Civil Rights

PLSC 2008

Published version available here:

Workshop draft abstract:

Social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack members of traditionally disadvantaged groups, especially women and people of color.  These destructive groups target individuals with lies, threats of violence, and denial of service attacks that silence victims and concomitantly destroy privacy and reputations.  Victims go offline or assume pseudonyms to prevent future attacks, thereby losing economic opportunities associated with a vibrant online presence and impoverishing online dialogue.  Search engines also reproduce the lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital “scarlet letters” that ruin reputations.

Today’s destructive cyber groups update a history of anonymous mobs such as the Ku Klux Klan coming together to victimize and subjugate vulnerable people.  The social science literature identifies conditions that accelerate dangerous group behavior and those that tend to defuse it.  Unfortunately, Web 2.0 technologies provide all of the accelerants of mob behavior but very few of its inhibitors.  With little reason to expect self-correction of this intimidation of vulnerable individuals, the law must respond.

This article argues that the harm inflicted by such destructive crowds ought to be understood and addressed as civil rights violations.  Federal criminal and civil rights laws must be read to provide effective means to challenge the intimidation and harassment perpetrated by today’s anonymous crowds as they have been to combat other masked mobs that menaced vulnerable groups and outspoken champions in the past.