Cyber Mobs, Disinformation, and Death Videos: The Internet As It Is (And As It Should Be)

26 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2019

See all articles by Danielle Keats Citron

Danielle Keats Citron

Boston University School of Law; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project; Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society

Date Written: August 9, 2019

Abstract

Fiction and visual representations can alter our understanding of human experiences and struggles. They help us understand human frailties and suffering in a visceral way. Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel Sabrina does that in spades. In Sabrina, a woman is murdered by a misogynist, and a video of her execution is leaked. Conspiracy theorists deem her murder a hoax. A cyber mob smears the woman’s loved ones as crisis actors, posts death threats, and spreads their personal information. The attacks continue until a shooting massacre redirects the cyber mob’s wrath to other mourners. Sabrina captures the breathtaking velocity of disinformation online and the rapid escalation to terroristic threats.

Every day, people are radicalized online to wreak havoc and violence. On August 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas, a twenty-one-year old man posted a racist manifesto on 8chan and then walked into a Wal Mart with a powerful rifle, killing 20 people and injuring many others. The killer trafficked in and engaged with others in hateful conspiracy theories.

Drnaso invites a conversation about cyber mobs, conspiracy theories, and death videos and the norms, attitudes, and laws enabling them. Right now, it is cheap and easy to wreak havoc online and for that havoc to go viral. Platforms act rationally — some might say responsibly to their shareholders — when they tolerate abuse that earns them advertising revenue and costs them nothing in legal liability. Combatting cyber-mob attacks must be a priority. Law should raise the cost of cyber-mob attacks. It is time for tech companies to redress some of the negative externalities of their business model. Platforms should not enjoy immunity from liability for user-generated content unless they have earned that immunity with reasonable content moderation practices. Education should play a role as well. As digital citizens, we need to do better.

Keywords: privacy, free speech, torts, Section 230, platform liability, cyber harassment

Suggested Citation

Citron, Danielle Keats, Cyber Mobs, Disinformation, and Death Videos: The Internet As It Is (And As It Should Be) (August 9, 2019). Michigan Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3435200 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3435200

Danielle Keats Citron (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.bu.edu/law/profile/danielle-citron/

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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