Ann Althouse Says Sexual Threats and False Claims of a Venereal Disease Are “Exactly What We Always Used to Say People Had to Put Up With in a Free Country”
The Wall Street Journal law blog reports:
In the latest chapter of the AutoAdmit.com scandal, two female Yale Law School students have sued Anthony Ciolli, the Web site’s former “chief educational director,” and more than two dozen others who allegedly used pseudonyms and posted the students’ photos as well as defamatory and threatening remarks about them on the online law-school discussion forum….
. . . .
“It’s bringing the right to protect yourself against offensive words and images into the 21st century,” said David N. Rosen, a New Haven, Conn.-based attorney for the students and a senior research scholar in law at Yale Law to the Law Blog in an interview. “This is the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe,” he said of the postings about the women on AutoAdmit.
Cheered on by Glenn Reynolds, blogger Ann Althouse replies:
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!
Look, I can respect an argument that the lawsuit against the website operator lacks merit. The law seems to me fairly well established that web site operators are not responsible for the nonsense asserted by commenters. (Were it otherwise, there’s a lot of stupid crap some of you folks write that I’d be responsible for.)
What I don’t understand is Althouse’s (and Reynolds’s) mocking the concerns of the plaintiffs, as if they were just whining over nothing. To me, these comments suggest an unfamiliarity with the actual allegations of the complaint.
Never mind the several allegedly false claims that one or more of the plaintiffs had a) received low LSAT scores; 2) bribed their way into Yale Law School; 3) had a lesbian affair with the Dean of Admissions at Yale Law School; and 4) committed sexual assault. To me, these seem defamatory (if false) — and guess what? At least one of the students had a hard time getting a summer job. Imagine that!
But as if that weren’t enough, the complaint lists several sexual threats and false claims of a sexual nature. (Warning: If you’re disturbed by strong language, read no further.)
For example, Paragraph 27 of the complaint states:
27. The message thread, entitled “Stupid Bitch to Attend Yale Law,” contains numerous threats, usually of a sexual nature, and false claims about Doe I including:
- “i’ll force myself on her, most definitely.” (posted under the user name, “neoprag”)
- “I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly.” (posted by “neoprag”)
- “just don’t FUCK her, she has herpes” (posted by “:D”)
In other posts, commenters encouraged one another to follow one of the plaintiffs and take pictures of her. One of the posters did, and then commenters made crude sexual comments about her under the picture, which was obviously posted without her consent. Typical of the comments: “i want to titty fuck her for persian new year.” (Paragraph 48.) [UPDATE: To be clear, the pictures were posted on another site, and merely linked (with crude commentary) on the AutoAdmit.com site.] [FURTHER UPDATE: Upon closer examination of the complaint, there is no specific allegation that the pictures that were linked (and posted on another site) were taken by a stalker, even though such behavior was encouraged.]
In paragraph 38 we see this:
[O]ne pseudonymous poster named “Spanky” said, “[c]learly she deserves to be raped so that her little fantasy world can be shattered by real life.” Another pseudonymous poster using the name “vlsdooder” made a similar sexual threat against Doe I, “i would like to hate-fuck [Doe I] but since people say she has herpes that might be a bad idea,” on a thread entitled “Which female YLS students would you sodomize?”
I could go on and on — but you get the idea.
Now, I’m not saying this is grounds for a lawsuit against the web site owner.
But I find it hard to believe that these threats of a sexual nature — and false claims that someone has a venereal disease — are fairly described as “exactly what we always used to say people had to put up with in a free country.”
UPDATE: Althouse updates her post (in response to this one) to note her lack of support for defamation:
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.”
But the “sexually offensive tripe” discussed in the complaint includes sexual threats, which Althouse notably does not exclude from the universe of things that “we always used to say people had to put up with in a free country.”
UPDATE x2: Eugene Volokh has a much better take on this. I discuss his arguments in this post.