An impassioned call for equal rights for women on the Internet.
In her debut, Citron (Law/Univ. of Maryland) introduces three women and describes how their personal, educational and professional prospects were wantonly destroyed by cybermobs attacking them through posts on social networking sites and emails sent to prospective schools and employers, messages containing scurrilous lies and graphically detailed threats to rape and murder them. Their efforts to stop or punish these activities were frustrated by the posters' anonymity, indifference on the part of law enforcement and legal loopholes protecting the websites hosting the attacks. Central to their predicaments is a widespread attitude that considers the Internet a lawless playground with no effect on the real world and that belittles the concerns of women and minorities facing a torrent of mindless hate when they attempt to use the Internet to advance their interests and careers. Citron compares this to the dismissive attitudes about sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic violence prevalent 40 years ago, and she argues that driving this vicious behavior from the Internet should be a major 21st-century civil rights initiative. The author has given careful thought to how the standards of civilized conduct expected everywhere else in our culture can be brought to bear on the Internet consistent with First Amendment concerns and without damaging the Internet’s capacity for robust debate, activism and innovation. Along with proposals for reducing the social acceptability of Internet abuse, Citron offers well-considered and modest changes to communications law and judicial procedure that could go a long way toward opening the Internet to safer and wider use by currently victimized groups. Her suggestion that anonymity online should be treated as a privilege that can be lost by violations of a site's terms of service is particularly constructive.
Frightening and infuriating, this demand for legal accountability for Internet barbarism deserves widespread exposure and serious consideration.