By which I mean shut your pretty little pie-hole. Or so say Ann Althouse and Glenn Reynolds. They’re responding to the AutoAdmit lawsuit, and, unsurprisingly, they think that it’s just a case of boys being boys and overly-sensitive little girls whining about nothing. Ann:
And I could put together tons of terrible things people have said about me — people who are actively trying to destroy my reputation, who publish many lies about me, and who allow their commenters to post using my name (even after I have repeatedly requested the deletion of those comments).
But I’ve never seriously considered suing anyone over it…. and not just because I’m hoping — like Glenn — that people won’t believe it. It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech. These lawsuits have an ugly chilling effect, and I wouldn’t want to be part of it.
We already know that Ann is a professional narcissist,* so of course she manages to turn this back to her — comparing her irritation with people who post using her name to the experiences of women who have been threatened with rape and, to give just one example, whose entire law school faculty received an anonymous email detailing the criminal actions of the woman’s father and blaming the woman (who was 10 years old at the time of her father’s misdeeds) for his thievery, claiming that he stole money because she wanted a pony. Bizarre? Yes. But still humiliating and intimidating.
But that isn’t so bad, right? Embarrassing, but not necessarily dangerous. How about this (I’ve removed the personal information):
[Name of law school redacted] law students and random lurkers in the area, tonight is your chance. Come to the [Full name redacted] gangbang party to get a chance to fuck some mildly prestigious pussy.
[Name redacted] can be RSVPed at:
Primary E-Mail Address [redacted]
Home Phone [redacted]
Registered E-Mail Address [redacted]
See you there! To get you in the mood, or for that afternoon masturbation session, here’s a picture:
[link to picture redacted]
But, yes, it is offensive to free speech to do anything about this.
I’m no fan of lawsuits either. But the women involved in this suit (and the many other women who were attacked on AutoAdmit and who haven’t sued) have exhausted all other ways of dealing with this situation. They’ve requested that their personal information be taken down. They’ve been nice. They’ve been polite. They’ve dropped out of school. They’ve taken semesters off. They’ve seen therapists. They’ve talked to their law school deans. They’ve appealed to the site owners. Nothing has worked. This suit is not frivolous or fun — it’s a last resort.
According to Althouse:
But most of the statements are just exaggerated talk about how women look and how the men feel sexual desire for them. How repressive do you want the government to be?
Indeed. I mean, we all like positive attention, right? I know my heart just goes aflutter when I read comments like these:
“I want to brutally rape that Jill slut”
“I’m 98% sure that she should be raped (if only in Internet Land)”
“Official Jill Filipovic RAPE Thread”
“I have it on good authority that Jill F has rape fantasies”
“what a useless guttertrash whore. i hope someone uses my pink, fleshy-textured cylindrical body to violate her” (from someone posting under the name “fleshlight”)
“for minimising this tragedy, she deserves a brutal raping”
“She’s a normal-sized girl that I’d bang violently,” “maybe you’d have to kill her afterwards” (in a thread titled “Be honest, everyone here would FUCK THE SHIT out of Jill Feministe”)
“that nose ring is fucking money, rape her immediately”
“Legal liability from posting pic showing Jill fucking?” (talking about photoshopping my head onto a pornstar’s body)
“she would be a good hate fuck”
“[Duke rape accuser] or ‘Jill’: who has more semen drip of their abortion scarred, fat asses?”
It’s just sexual desire!
She also says:
So this is the 21st century? Where courts award punitive damages for offensive words and pictures? Isn’t “the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe” exactly what we always used to say people had to put up with in a free country? Man, that was so 20th century!
I’m fairly certain that defamation and libel law existed in the 20th century, but I suppose Ann is the law professor.
Stuff that offends dumb hicks in the heartland is constitutionally protected. Stuff that offends Yale Law Students must be stamped out!
Which is fabulously disingenuous (but really, what did you expect)? This isn’t about who’s offended by what. It’s not about female law students being upset that they can view a Robert Mapplethorpe photo on a school computer. It’s about harassment, threats and defamation of private citizens. It doesn’t matter if the party is a student at Yale Law School or a hick in the heartland — disseminating malicious, purposeful lies about that person is not protected speech, particularly when those lies cause tangible harm.
Among the things that are being said about female law students on AutoAdmit, using their full names (these are all taken directly from the complaint):
-“Doe II of YSL has huge fake titties”
-“YSL 1L [DOE II] HAS HUGE FAKE TITES AND IS UNIVERSALLY HATED”
-“i’ll force myself on her, most definitely.” (In a thread titled “Stupid Bitch to Attend Yale Law”)
-“I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly.” (In the same thread)
-“just don’t FUCK her, she has herpes” (In the same thread)
-“[Doe II] of Yale Law got a 159 on the LSAT” (in a post that encouraged other posters to “Make sure all the Vault 50s know it before she gets an offer” — in other words, the thread was created specifically to damage her job prospects).
-“The backstory is that [Doe I] has been having a lesbian affair with Yale Law School [redacted] Dean [redacted] while [redacted] has been on maternity leave. [Redacted]‘shusband found out about this and went balistic. He contacted [Doe I's] prospective employers in an effort to discredit her.”
-“Clearly she deserves to be raped so that her little fantasy word can be shattered by real life.”
-“i would like to hate-fuck [Doe I] but since people say she has herpes that might be a bad idea” (in a thread titled “Which female YLS students would you sodomize?”)
-“I’m doing cartwheels knowing this stupid Jew bitch is getting her self esteem raped.”
-“[Doe II] is into scat… At least that’s what a buddy of mine that goes to YLS tells me.”
-“[Doe II] the CGWBT sucked by cock for a P in Civ pro”
-“[Doe II] found dead in apartment!”
-“[Doe II] (YLS 09) IS AN ANNOYING, SELFISH CUNT. I HOPE SHE GETS RAPED AND DIES.”
Obviously nothing more than “just exaggerated talk about how women look and how the men feel sexual desire for them. ” Because apparently, “sexual desire” means “wanting someone to be raped and killed.”
There is much, much more in the complaint. But according to Althouse, most of it should be protected:
This post originated as a response to the lawyer’s phrase “the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe.” I want to see “the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe” protected. That doesn’t mean I support defamation or the revelation of private facts or impersonating someone by name on a website. Those are different matters, and I don’t mean to express an opinion as to whether any torts like that are alleged in the complaint. I just want to remind people to keep our free speech bearings. We have lost our way if we’ve forgotten the importance of protecting speech that is “scummy” and “offensive” and “tripe.”
I think my favorite sentence is “[Defamation or the revelation of private facts] are different matters, and I don’t mean to express an opinion as to whether any torts like that are alleged in the complaint.” Seems to me that the good professor didn’t take the time to actually read the complaint before determining that the plaintiffs are just whiny bitches. Because if she had actually read the complaint she was writing about, she would have seen that there is a defamation claim, so there’s no question “as to whether any torts like that are alleged in the complaint.” They are alleged in the complaint, in plain English. And no one is being sued for offending someone else’s sensibilities. The AutoAdmit guys are being sued for libel and for the harm that their false statements and threats caused. But it’s much more fun to play Free Speech Savior and knock down strawmen than it is to actually face the fact that these women are suing because they have experienced substantial psychological and professional harm from the libelous and malicious comments written about them on AutoAdmit.
Of course, I don’t favor threatening the women. (Note: they are women, not girls.) But the issue here is a lawsuit, and there are significant factual questions whether a reasonable person would see these statements as true threats (as opposed to outrageous insults).
I’m focusing on the legal questio of what courts ought to be doing, not on question of whether whether what the guys wrote was despicable and deserving of criticism. If you can’t keep those two things distinct, you’re not interest in protecting free speech.
Except that the issue isn’t just whether the statements are “true threats.” The issues are also libel, harassment, and copyright infringement – which I’d think Professor Althouse would be able to grasp. It’s also about intentional infliction of emotional distress — AutoAdmit posters who purposely tried to do harm. But remember: It’s still about Ann.
And as for whether I have experienced what these women have, I think I’ve been savaged much more and for much longer by people who are actively trying to destroy my reputation (for political reasons). And I have a sexist/sexual AutoAdmit thread about me here. Which I have laughed off.
Who is actively trying to destroy her reputation? Some dude who left a comment on a political blog under her name? People who posted the video of her flipping shit on Garance Franke-Ruta? Those of us who criticized her for going after Jessica Valenti, all because Jessica had the nerve to bring her breasts along when she met President Clinton? Poor Ann, having her reputation destroyed by her own words and actions — clearly, this is someone else’s fault, and way worse than being libeled and threatened with rape. And the AutoAdmit thread she links to is, of course, not threatening and not libelous/defamatory. But why bother with silly details like those? If the AutoAdmit threads never went beyond “Rate this chick’s boobs,” there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit.
The rest of the Patterico thread is interesting (although I do agree with Patterico and many of his commenters). One commenter says, “Sexual threats? All I saw were idiots talking big.” I see what he’s saying — nowhere did commenters say “I’m going to rape Jane Doe I at 2pm on June 13, 2007.” There’s always the question of how credible a threat is. So here’s some background that’s not entirely clear from the complaint, background that I’m relatively familiar with, but to a lesser extent than the women suing: Many of the posters on the AutoAdmit boards are, or claim to be, law students. People who claim to go to school with me have posted saying that they saw me walking on X street, that they sat next to me at X event, that I was wearing X, that in person I look like X (apparently I have bad posture and I am short). Those kinds of comments are incredibly disturbing. I’m not all that sensitive about my privacy — I wrote a feminist column for my college newspaper that included my picture, I was on the executive board of several active student organizations, and I write under my real name on two prominent blogs. I am not under the impression that I’m an anonymous citizen. I’ve received a great many harassing, crude emails and comments in response to my columns and my posts. A comment about my boobs isn’t going to send me into hysterics. But reading postings by anonymous classmates of mine detailing where they had seen me and what I was doing was pretty unnerving. I also missed a lot of class. I also started seeing a therapist. I also talked to one of the deans. And I’m a person who is very used to being criticized and attacked for just about everything. I’m someone who has developed very thick skin. The “Jill sightings,” coupled with the comments about hate-fucking and raping me, got under that skin. I can only imagine how that must feel for women who are completely private, who aren’t used to being torn apart for their looks or their political opinions, who didn’t put themselves out there, who simply went to school only to be threatened, harassed and defamed.
Put yourself in their shoes. People who claim they go to school with you, or know people who go to school with you, say that they’ve seen you in the gym. They post your picture. They reveal where you go to school — a small school, with a few hundred students in your class. They post your email address and your phone number. They reveal any personal information they can find about you. They say that you’re a bitch, and they incite anger among the commenters. You read about how much everyone on this board hates you, and that they know where you attend school, what you look like, and where you work out or what kind of events you attend. Then someone says, “i’ll force myself on her, most definitely.” Someone else adds, “I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly.”
Credible? Who knows. But does that certainly feel threatening? Hell yes.
And imagine the reaction if these women had seen such comments, never reported them and then something bad did happen. The rape apologists (and even some feminist-minded progressives, I’m sure) would add to the chorus of “What was she thinking?” and “Why didn’t she report it before this happened?”
In other words, there’s no winning. You try to do something about it and you’re a whiny free speech assailant. You keep quiet and you’re an idiot.
Whether those are true threats is a question we can disagree about. I don’t think they are. It’s not polite speech, and I don’t like it either, but that doesn ‘t make it a real threat. It makes it ugly and deserving of condemnation, but I still disapprove of the lawsuit.
Well, Ann doesn’t believe that those are true threats. She has no more evidence of their credibility than I do, but her crystal ball tells her that the threats wouldn’t have been carried out. Now, I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that the legal standard for threatening language isn’t based just on whether or not the threats would have definitely been carried out had law enforcement (or a law suit) not stepped in. My understanding is that the law is slightly more nuanced than that, and that it recognizes the harm inherent to the threats themselves, not just the harm that might have resulted had the threats been carried through.
The women who filed this suit have experienced substantial harm from the threats and the libelous statements posted about them. They are not trying to shut down your free speech. They are not trying to sue any guy who comments that Jane Doe has a nice rack. They are suing people who flat-out said that they were going to sexually assault them, and people who made statements that were on their face defamatory.
I am a big fan of free speech rights. There are very few cases where I favor limiting free speech. But I think that threatening and defaming/libeling private citizens is a fair place to draw the line. And if the kinds of comments included in the complaint don’t qualify as defamatory statements, I’m not sure what does.
Eugene Volokh has another take.
Thanks to The Good Reverend, who I forgot to hat-tip last time, for the original AutoAdmit link to the WSJ story.
*Note to Ann: By calling you a narcissist I am not attempting to “destroy your reputation.”
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