Some of you may be interested in an online symposium that was recently held (and in which I participated) at the Concurring Opinions blog, focused on Danielle Citron's recently-published paper on "Cyber Civil Rights." Citron's point (from the Abstract of her paper) is:
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.
What I found most interesting was not the paper itself, but the discussion about the paper, which I found disturbing and a little depressing. As I put it in my contribution to the symposium:
What disturbed me was neither the manner in which the discussion took place (which was civil and informative), nor Prof. Citron's proposals (which are similarly thoughtful and provocative, though I am obviously not a big fan of them), but rather that the values of free expression seem to have so little purchase within this community of intelligent, thoughtful, and reasonable people -- and if it's got little purchase here, my hopes for it elsewhere are correspondingly diminished. Reading the various comments, one gets an impression of a First Amendment that is more, but not much more, than a nuisance standing in the way of progressive social legislation.