Working with the wonderful people at Fordham Law’s Center on Law and Information Policy, I’m happy to announce we are releasing our newest research report:
Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape
This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior and to obtain legal relief. The study concluded that while online harassment and hateful speech is a significant problem, there are few legal remedies for victims. This is partly due to issues of jurisdiction and anonymity, partly due to the protection of internet speech under the First Amendment, and partly due to the lack of expertise and resources on online speech at various levels of law enforcement. Given this landscape, the problem of online harassment and hateful speech is unlikely to be solved solely by victims using existing laws; law should be utilized in combination with other practical solutions.
The objective of the project is to provide a resource that may be used by the general public, and in particular, researchers, legal practitioners, Internet community moderators, and victims of harassment and hateful speech online.
This report was inspired by the many high-profile incidents of women (esp. women of color and queer women) harassed online in the last few years. Before digging deeper into the sociological implications, I was curious as to whether there was room in the current legal landscape to prosecute such actions, whether civilly or criminally.
Because internet speech is (rightfully) protected under the First Amendment, any laws criminalizing online speech have to be written very carefully. The specifics of the words used (calling someone a “ho” versus a “bitch”), the threats made (“burn at the stake” vs. “publicly execute”), and the venue in which they appear (Facebook vs. email, for instance) are all crucially important. While 37 states have cyberharassment laws, they are often written to circumvent First Amendment protections (and it remains to be seen whether they will be upheld as constitutional). In addition, victims face issues of jurisdiction, anonymity, and getting law enforcement to take the threats seriously.
CLIP was immensely supportive of this effort and funded the work. I am DELIGHTED that this report is finally coming out and I hope those of you doing research on topics like online harassment, online conflict, revenge porn, cyberbullying, and so forth find it useful.
Please comment or email me if you have feedback!