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Cyber Civil Rights

Danielle Keats Citron

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project; Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society

December 18, 2008

Boston University Law Review, Vol. 89, pp. 61-125, 2009
U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-41

Social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack women, people of color, and members of other traditionally disadvantaged groups. These destructive groups target individuals with defamation, threats of violence, and technology-based attacks that silence victims and concomitantly destroy their privacy. Victims go offline or assume pseudonyms to prevent future attacks, impoverishing online dialogue and depriving victims of the social and economic opportunities associated with a vibrant online presence. Attackers manipulate search engines to reproduce their lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital "scarlet letters" that ruin reputations.

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 66

Keywords: cyber crime, Web 2.0, civil rights

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Date posted: September 22, 2008 ; Last revised: February 27, 2014

Suggested Citation

Citron, Danielle Keats, Cyber Civil Rights (December 18, 2008). Boston University Law Review, Vol. 89, pp. 61-125, 2009; U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-41. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1271900

Contact Information

Danielle Keats Citron (Contact Author)
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )
500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States
Yale University - Yale Information Society Project
127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States
Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society
Palo Alto, CA
United States

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