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#GamerGate has put the issue of women and online harassment in the headlines. It started as an ex-boyfriend’s rant and turned into a debate about the video game industry. Alongside the legitimate online discussion, there emerged a campaign of cyber threats against female game developers and critics. Anonymous messages on Twitter became so violent that three women have fled their homes, while others were forced offline. Yet, no arrests have been made, and the cyber attacks continue. This case is extreme, but it reflects an experience that is not unique. A study from 2012 found that one in five adults in the U.S. has suffered online harassment –- and the majority of victims are women. Today on the show: a look at online harassment of women and why it’s so hard to address.
- Danielle Citron Professor at University of Maryland's Carey School of Law and author of "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace"
- Lee Rowland Staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
- Amanda Hess Staff writer at Slate
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The internet is famous for trolls, those who heckle and torment under the cloak of anonymity. At times, this hateful speech crosses a line and becomes cyber harassment. Evidence suggests this online behavior is disproportionately aimed at women. But determining what's allowable under the law and passable under social media guidelines is rife with concerns. Including infringing on freedom of speech. Joining me in this studio, Danielle Citron of the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd from the NPR studios in New York, Lee Rowland of the American Civil Liberties Union. And Amanda Hess of Slate. I hope you'll join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email. Let us know your concerns. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for joining us.
MS. DANIELLE CITRONThanks for having us.
REHMAnd if I could start with you Amanda Hess, tell us about Gamer Gate. I had never heard of it until we started putting this program together. What can you tell us about it?
MS. AMANDA HESSWell, I mean, it's a whole can of worms. So, I will try to be as clear as possible.
HESSGamer Gate is a movement among some people who identify with the video game community. And it has several facets. So, there are some people who seem to be legitimately concerned about ethics in gaming journalism. There are others who seem annoyed that women are being more and more accepted in the video game community. And there are others who are expressing that by violently threatening to rape and kill female game developers or critics.
HESSSo, it's this sort of diffuse movement of gamers, some of whom are earnest and want to make journalism better. And others who are more vocal, who just seem to hate women.
REHMNow, I gather you wrote about this in one of your articles?
HESSI've referenced it, yeah, in a couple.
REHMAnd tell me about the article that appeared in Deadspin.
HESSSo, I -- I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to. I did write a story that referenced that Deadspin article. The Deadspin article is a good primer for anyone who is interested in diving into whatever Gamer Gate is. What I did is write a story about what law enforcement can do about these more intense sort of iterations of Gamer Gate. So, threats of violence, rape, stalking, death. And I spoke with a former FBI agent who, you know, expressed some frustration of his own about the resources that law enforcement has to really investigate these crimes.
HESSWhat he basically told me was the bottom line is, I was investigating child porn rings. And so, when stuff like this would come across my desk, it was a very low priority for me. And he suggested that, you know, with a little more training of local law enforcement, and potentially higher penalties for online stalking and harassment, that law enforcement may begin to take these crimes more seriously. But right now, it's very difficult to get them investigated, much less prosecuted.
REHMYou shared your own experience with online harassment in the January issue of Pacific Standard in an article you titled, "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet." What happened to you?
HESSSo, I've experienced online harassment a few times. One, several years ago, when I was working for a local newspaper in Washington, D.C. A man who I had referenced in a story disliked it, and he reacted by threatening to rape and kill me in the comment sections of my articles. In emails that he sent to me and my editor at the time. In angry voicemails that he would leave on my phone. And I reported the incidents to police and they were not helpful. Eventually, I was able to get a restraining order against him, and a year later, it expired, and I sort of forgot about it.
HESSAnd then, last summer, I got another series of rape and death threats that sounded quite similar over Twitter. And I called the police again. They came to my hotel room, where I was staying at the time, and I tried to explain the situation to them and they said, what is Twitter? They were not familiar with the social network. And from there, I found all of these sort of contradictions in attempting to just get this incident investigated. I was mostly trying to understand if this was someone who had just, you know, was just throwing off threats like for fun.
HESSOr if it was this same person who had been stalking me for several years. But because I couldn't get the police to investigate it or even really understand what was happening, I still don't know.
REHMAnd that is the voice of Amanda Hess. She's a staff writer at Slate. Danielle Citron, this is a pretty extreme example. How often does this kind of harassment occur?
CITRONSo, it's not just the one off case. It's estimated that at least every year, there are 850,000 cases of online harassment, which is sort of repetitive online expression targeted at someone, designed to cause substantial emotional distress and/or the fear of bodily harm. And in these cases, what we see is threats of sexual violence, often, privacy invasions, including the posting of someone's nude photos. Attempts to basically hijack someone's like work and career.
CITRONAnd technological attacks designed to shut down peoples' websites, to hack in to their computers and mess up their financials. And to basically ruin their lives, their careers and their professional reputations.
REHMYou've written a book titled, "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace." I think a great many of us have heard about the financial hacking and theft and that sort of thing. But how frequently does this kind of sexual harassment occur?
CITRONRight. And so, the study that I talked about from the Bureau of Justice statistics is defined in a way that covers and includes sexual harassment. So including rape threats, posting of nude photos, defamatory lies which often demean someone in very sexual ways, so saying that someone has herpes, is a prostitute, has AIDS. And so, in my book, I sort of categorize and discuss these cases that are not one offs. So, it is truly the everyday person, the nurse, the doctor, the dentist, business person, mom, you know, stay at home parent.
CITRONTeachers have lost their jobs because their sort of exes have sent or emailed their nude photos to their employers. And teachers are fired in the response or explanation is that look, I understand that you may not have put them up, but you're an elementary school teacher. We can't have parents Googling you, seeing these photos of you, and then continue to have you teaching.
REHMLee Rowland, as a staff attorney with the AL -- ACLU Speech Privacy and Technology Project, certainly, surely some of what we're talking about here is illegal under current law, isn't it?
MS. LEE ROWLANDOh, there's no doubt about that. You know, certainly, the example Amanda gave where she was directly given death threats. That's not protected by the first amendment. Many of the things Danielle just mentioned, similarly, whether it's defamation or threats or repeat harassment, are things that our courts have rightly defined as outside the first amendment because criminalizing those activities isn't picking and choosing between speech that the government likes or certain people like.
MS. LEE ROWLANDBut rather, it's conduct that is designed to place someone in fear or causes grievous harm. And frequently, when I'm asked to participate in these discussions, or state legislatures are considering new laws to grapple with the internet, I try and remind people that it's very important to distinguish between -- as a legal matter, it's very important to distinguish between this kind of conduct, right, direct threats and harassment and stalking.
MS. LEE ROWLANDAnd more generally, annoying, disgusting, horrifying, but constitutionally protected speech. And the internet really is a reflection of our entire society. The Supreme Court quite brilliantly said it was as diverse as human thought. And that's true. And the reality is that there is a lot of human thought that reasonable and rational people disagree with strongly. So, we have to be very careful when we are creating new laws to govern the internet, that we focus on those tried and true constitutional values.
MS. LEE ROWLANDWe stay truthful to them by only, basically, extending the kind of restrictions we already have in the brick and mortar world online without going farther. Without trying to regulate more speech than is absolutely necessary to keep people safe.
REHMBut from what Amanda said, it sounds as though even getting the police involved was very difficult. Danielle, do you think it's a matter of enforcement?
CITRONI think that's exactly right. There are laws on the books, threat laws, stalking, harassment laws, that we can enforce today. That are under-enforced, because what happens is law enforcement, as Amanda suggested, they just don't get the technology. And they don't understand the law. They have so little training. And so the response is just -- it's wacky what victims tell me is that they're told, oh, they're under -- they're over 18, so there's the harassment laws don't apply. Oh, you shared a photo with someone, so they're just wrong on the law.
REHMDanielle Citron. She's the author of a brand new book. It's titled, "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace." She is professor of law at the University of Maryland. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about online harassment. "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace" is the title of Danielle Citron's new book. She's professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law. From New York we have Lee Rowland. She's staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech Privacy and Technology Project. And Amanda Hess. She's a staff writer at Slate. She shared her own experience with online harassment in the January issue of Pacific Standard in an article titled "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet."
REHMDanielle, I want to come back to you because I want to hear a little more about this case we call GamerGate and what happened to the women involved?
CITRONRight. And I think it's really important to note that GamerGate is part of -- there's been a harassment campaign against women in gaming, both journalists and developers, for over two years now. And so Anita Sarkeesian was like the tip of the iceberg but it began with her. And...
REHMWho is she?
CITRONAnita Sarkeesian is a media critic who started two years ago. She announced she was going to create a documentary about sexism in video games, just the characters, you know, the way in which women are, you know, perceived and presented in video games. And immediately after she announces her effort, a cyber mob descends. She's threatened with sexual violence. Often some of the emails sent to her anonymously included, like, doctored photographs that looked like she was being raped. Some included her home address.
CITRONA game appeared called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian. And so when you pressed the keys, right, her face looked increasingly bloodied. And they went after her career so that Kickstarter received false reports that her effort was fraudulent. And her YouTube account, which is where she put up videos for the work she was doing, was reported as hate speech spam and terrorism. And so there was an attempt basically to silence her, right, kick her offline. And her site Feminist Frequency was shut down intermittently with distributed denial of service attacks. And so it really was a means to hijack the work she was doing. And it wasn't just Anita so there were other women in gaming.
CITRONExactly. And it has really -- it's a fever pitch right now because the cyber mob has associated this sort of mantel of we don't like women in games. We don't want women or these social justice warriors involved in gaming. But the truth of the matter is that half of the people who are playing these games are female and they're trying to push them out of the work that they're doing.
REHMNow, Lee Rowland, what can law authorities do about that kind o behavior on the part of these cyber mobs?
ROWLANDWell, there's an incredible amount they can do under existing law. And exactly as Danielle said, some of the actions against Anita and Brianna rose to the level of threats. The denial of service attacks of course were intentional hacking and harm to people's presence online where there were defamatory statements made about them that -- you know, to Kickstarter and other business modules. We already have laws against those. None of those actions would harm the First Amendment.
ROWLANDAnd I think it's important to come back to something that you mentioned before the break, Diane, and that you and Danielle were discussing, which is there is clearly a gap in enforcement here. These are real crimes where women -- you know, Anita Sarkeesian was specifically issued a very threatening and harrowing gun threat for a recent appearance she felt compelled to cancel. That's a crime. It would be a crime if it happened on the street, in a home. It's a crime if it happens online. And yet we're not seeing police being as responsive.
REHMAnd I gather that -- I gather Brianna actually had to move out of her own home.
CITRONThat's right. Yep, so she's now living not in her home. She and her husband left. And same with Anita. She had to move out of her house because recent threats in the last three weeks that she's received included her home address and her parents' home address.
REHMSo what did law authorities do about those two cases? Do we know?
CITRONSo they're working on it. So apparently their efforts in California to investigate this sort of cyber mob that's gone out to Anita, but it's taken frankly a long time. But I have some hope because Attorney General Kamala Harris is sort of creating a taskforce on cyber exploitation and is really interested in training law enforcement and addressing these problems in a way that, frankly for seven years that I've been working on this, we have not.
REHMSo Lee, the question becomes, how far can we go to legislate safety on the internet? There -- I understand you're concerned about free speech, but at the same time these kinds of threats, this kind of harassment really is life-changing.
ROWLANDWithout a doubt. And again, those are terms of our -- threats and harassment, at least as you've asked the question, those are defined in the law. And we define them carefully. And frankly I don't see much distinction in the level of potential violence and vitriol in the threats and harassment we're seeing in GamerGate than in many crimes that are already routinely investigated and prosecuted in the brick and mortar world.
ROWLANDI think what we're seeing, and as Amanda's story is one example of, is that many police departments, number one, have a terrible history of equally enforcing laws that impact women, right. And we at the ACLU work to advocate with the DOJ to engage in training of local police forces to ensure that there's no gender bias in their enforcement of the laws. And that's had some success. In certain jurisdictions, DOJ has entered into consent degrees in certain areas to make sure that gender-based crimes are similarly investigated and prosecuted.
ROWLANDAnd what I think we need to add to that is the technological dimension, right. We at the ACLU protect the internet as really this exemplary public forum and public square for us all to participate in. We don't believe that new laws are required to grapple with speech that is perhaps amplified, right, in its sensitivity because of the nature of the online world. But at the same time when we talk about cyber mobs, we need to be very careful to distinguish between those who are making threats, right, who are engaged in behavior that is not protected by the First Amendment and those who are perhaps disgustingly just piling on. And they hate women.
REHMAnd Amanda, I wanted to ask you about whether the police actually got to the person or persons who were harassing you and what action, if any, was ultimately taken.
HESSSo they did not get to the person or persons. I have no idea who they are. So I called local police when I was in California, who told me basically, we don't know where this person is. They could be in California. When they were tweeting threats at me they claimed they lived in my state. But who knows, they could be in Nebraska, they could be in India. That's what I was told. Of course, we can't figure out where they are if they will not sort of go after a subpoena to try and figure out where the person is. So it was this catch 22 where because we didn't know where they were, they refused to find out where they were.
HESSIn another incident I had where I knew who the person was, I still did not get police to take it seriously. I was able to get a civil protection order. But even in the case where I knew who this person was, I knew where he lived, I had his voice and his phone number on my cell phone, it was very difficult to get police to care. They basically told me, we have three murders we're investigating right now so, you know, maybe later.
REHMSo, in fact, what they're not doing is taking this kind of harassment from afar, if you will, seriously.
CITRONWell, that's exactly right. I mean, what victims hear is, turn off your computer. Boys will be boys. It's no big deal. And so it's very much the same way in which in the, you know, 1960s and early 1970s when we said to women in a workplace, you know, if you don't like it, leave your job, right. The workplace has its own rules, just as many today say, look, the internet's the wild west. This is the rough and tumble of the internet and if you don't like it, just turn off your email or your computer.
CITRONAnd that, of course, belies the reality that the internet is a many splendored thing, that these platforms are where we work, where we speak and engage, where we socialize and meet clients, right. And it's not just a speech platform. It is embedded in everything we do and crucial to our economic lives.
REHMSo give us a big picture. How many people, both men and women, have become victims of either cyber stalking or harassment of another kind?
CITRONSo it's three-quarters of a million people a year. And there are studies that suggest that it's going to be even more so as we move forward the more we use these technologies. A 20 percent, a 30 percent of all internet users will face some sort of stalking and harassment in the sustained way that I have talked about, not just mean words.
REHMSo what are you suggesting? Are you saying, get off Twitter, get off Facebook, don't put your picture up there. Or is it just a small group because of what they do who are being harassed?
CITRONSo I think the opposite we should say is that we -- these network tools are indispensable to our lives. And so they're being misused and manipulated because it's cheap and easy to attack someone in this way. I don't think necessarily it's a small group, you know, that are these, like, 20 cyber mob folks going after everyone. This is a tool to intimidate, to destroy people's lives. And it's safe and easy for harassers. They think they're not going to get caught and the law won't be enforced.
CITRONAnd so we need law to educate us, right, to teach us that this is wrongful behavior, much in the way that we did about sexual harassment in the workplace. We needed to change the way we viewed and understood it. Something Amanda said was really striking, right, that law enforcement told her that they are only investigating, you know, murders and, you know, child pornography. And that just belies reality. In fact, the FBI statistics make clear that the top three crimes that they're arrest are for drug, both drug sales and use and distribution, aggravated assault and larceny theft, which is property like auto vehicle theft.
CITRONAnd so we are just not seeing online harassment as harmful. We're trivializing it. It's not that -- I mean, online harassment has costs that are grave so it's over -- it's estimated that at least $1300 each victim spends in trying to figure out ways, you know, hiring a lawyer, time off from work, to deal with some of the abuse in stalking, moving out of their homes, right, as Brianna Wu just recently did and Anita Sarkeesian. So it's incredibly costly. If we line up these crimes and say it's only based on how much it's a societal cost, we are ignoring the societal cost.
REHMAnd what about men? To what extent are they subjected to the same kind?
CITRONRight. The majority of victims are women but men experience it as well. And it lines up frighteningly in the same way that women experience it. So men's nude photos are released to their employers. They are accused of being rapists and child predators, so it's sexually humiliating and sexually threatening in the same way it's designed to hijack people's careers.
REHMDanielle Citron. Her new book is titled "Hate Crimes in Cyber Space." She's professor of law at the University of Maryland. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Fort Worth, Texas. Hi there, Maggie, you're on the air.
MAGGIEI've been a moderator on a website for a number of years. And we have what I think is a sociopath who targets people. And when they react to his posts he uses that as his entitlement to punish them. And what he does to women, and me in particular because I was one of the main moderators, was to harvest photos.
MAGGIEHe -- before I shut down my Facebook to anybody who wasn't a friend, he harvested my photos and family photos and he co-mingled them with soft core porn. He created fake sites through Flicker and through Facebook and other smaller social media sites. And then he went around and he posted those links everyplace he could find. He created them and he linked them to my workplace. I'm at a university here in Texas and he linked those to my worksite looking like I'm posting porn. And it's been horrible.
MAGGIEAnd the thing about this is that the enabler in this case are Flicker and Facebook and those sites. It's incredibly difficult to get them to take those down.
MAGGIEAnd even with a friend -- yes.
REHMGo ahead. What about that, Danielle?
CITRONSo sites like Facebook and Flicker have terms of service and community guidelines. And precisely what Maggie's telling us about would violate those terms, especially the doctored nude photos. They forbid harassment, stalking, threats, hate speech. But it's -- the scale is tough. So I imagine that, you know, your case fell through the cracks. It doesn't make it acceptable, right.
REHMLee, what do you think?
ROWLANDWell, I think this is an area where probably the ACLU differs with folks like Danielle the most, which is we have some discomfort with asking large broad-based internet platforms to engage in more censorship. And one of the reasons is we know that they don't do it particularly well. In Maggie's case, for which I apologize, Maggie, that sounds extraordinarily difficult to go through, I have no doubt that many a Facebook's guidelines actually banned what was being posted there. But they were not effectively removed.
ROWLANDWe know when Facebook instituted a no-nudity policy that it primarily was cracking down on breast-feeding support groups, right. When private companies make the decision to start filtering out content, it frankly takes on a pseudo governmental role in becoming a large sensor. And they don't do it particularly well. And for folks whose speech is taken down, they frequently find themselves in kind of a Kafkaesque un-appealable confusion about why their speech was taken down, what rules they have violated, etcetera.
ROWLANDSo there's no doubt that private companies have the right to adopt norms for speech. But I think companies that have taken on more and more requests to take down speech have found themselves playing censor in a way that takes more resources, is more complicated and affords users very little due process in a way that doesn't give users ultimately a great deal of comfort, and frankly is bad for their bottom line.
CITRONRight. So I agree that companies can do far better in terms of notifying users what they mean by these terms, right, like harassment and stalking, and then creating a much more accessible system where that folks when they report abuse they know what's happening with their complaints. There is due process at the back end so that when speech is removed -- and that's not always the case, but if it is, there's an opportunity to object. Because Anita Sarkeesian, she was -- some of her content on her Facebook and Twitter feed was reported as hate speech and spam. And that's, of course, an abuse of the abuse system, right.
CITRONSo I completely agree that they could do far better. But private actors are in charge of these issues, right. We wouldn't say to a diner -- someone walks in screaming threats at someone, we wouldn't say to the diner that they can't walk the person out and say, hey, like this is not how we run their business. These platforms are private actors. They could do a better job but that's, in some ways, how we develop social norms and free speech norms is the private actors dealing with each other.
REHMAll right. We're going to take a short break here. This is all very sad and disturbing information and says to me that you really have to be awfully careful out there with your own information. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've got lots of good and interesting email and phone calls. Here's an email from Graham who says, as a cop, I can say there is a training gap. I understand the law. I can take a report. But detectives need to know how to query Twitter, ISPs and other virtual places to get the actual name and address of the suspects. That's the issue. The crime occurs where the victim is, but you need to have a known suspect to see it through. What about that, Lee?
ROWLANDWell, that's exactly what we were discussing earlier. Right? That there really is this training gap and it's not just about gender. It's about technology, right? And I think the average detective or law enforcement who's taking complaints from the public isn't as technologically savvy as someone who has been a victim of an online crime wants them to be. And that is -- that's a gap we can close.
REHMAll right. Here's a suggestion from Gillian. She said, if there is not one already, is it time for online police? It seems as though local law enforcement really are not equipped for dealing with these cases. An online law enforcement officer that you can call or contact with these should be implemented. They can investigate complaints and do what they can to find out IP addresses and take steps to put an end to the harassment. Amanda, how would you feel about that?
HESSWell, I think Danielle can speak to this, but we do have police who you might consider, like, online police. We have people on the federal level and in some states who are targeting revenge porn, who work in cyber task forces. And so, they do exist. The problem that I found when reporting my incidents to local police and then also to the FBI was that local cops had more bandwidth to, you know, deal with what is a minor problem. But they didn't have any of the tools to investigate it.
HESSWhereas the FBI had all the tools, but they didn't have the time to investigate some random woman who was being threatened with death. Because they just have too many cases to deal with.
HESSSo I think we have them. It's just there's a resource...
REHM...isn't the FBI involved? Here's an email from Jim in Banner Elk, North Carolina who says the internet is international, so it is certainly interstate. And these crimes should fall within the jurisdiction of the FBI. The Feds are better able to handle cybercrimes than local law enforcement. Danielle.
CITRONRight. They're both equipped in the law so permits them and encourages them. So there's a federal cyber stalking law. There are threat laws. There is electronic harassment laws that would cover not all, but much of this abuse that we're talking about. But from the three year period, from 2009 until 2012, there are only 10 cases prosecuted under 2261, which is the federal cyber stalking statute. So there -- they have the means, the law, but their will, of course, is the question.
CITRONAnd I think the more I think the FBI can work with state level cybercrime law enforcement, because we can't rest everything on the Feds, just for resource reasons, that they can help perhaps the FBI and their cybercrime units can help educate law enforcement at the state, local and rural level to help them figure out what they need to investigate as the police officer was suggesting wisely. The kind of court orders you need to get, how do you -- what's your first step, your warrant. Like, what are the steps of identifying these destructive harassers?
REHMAll right. Let's go to Vince in Orlando, Florida. Hi, you're on the air.
VINCEYes, thank you for taking my call.
VINCEI was -- in reference to the Gamer's Gate and online harassment discussion, I was wondering if your guests would be willing to operate (unintelligible) to threats of violence and death threats coming from both sides of that argument. Thank you.
REHMI'm not sure. Do you get that, Danielle?
CITRONI think the question is folk who are anti-Gamer Gate, if they're engaging in counter threats, isn't that illegal too, and I think the answer is absolutely right. That is, to the extent that we are now sort of devolving into a Hobbsian society where we have cyber mobs on one side of the coin fighting cyber mobs on the other. They're both destructive, no matter the whatever motivates them. If they're engaging in threat stalking harassment, then they too should be prosecuted, whether they're protecting the victims or not. If they are harassing other people, then they ought to be prosecuted.
REHMAll right. To Joe in Rochester, New York. You're on the air.
JOEOh, well, hi. First of all, I'm a big fan of the show. Thank you so much for having me on.
JOEI'm just, I just wanted to call in because this is, of course, a very sensitive issue, especially when it comes to the threats and that everything should -- crimes like that should definitely be handled in the best way possible. But my concern is just that the framing of this Gamer Gate controversy -- first off, Gamer Gate is really, to me, a big media kind of gotcha headline. And I come from a generation that grew up with the internet. And I feel almost as if a lot of people don't understand that the internet, as it is now, there's almost a counterculture that thrives on the internet.
JOEThat when it comes to women's rights issues and when it comes to racial issues, this -- the internet generation now, they don't see gender, they don't see race. To me, when you're online, you're anonymous. That person could be black, white, Hispanic, they could be male, they could be female. It doesn't matter. On the internet, when you're anonymous, on sites like 4Chan, on sites like Reddit, you are just a person.
REHMYeah, but let's get to the issue of Gamer Gate and precisely what the issues were.
JOE...I think the only problem I'm having is just that this is really -- it's being framed as a women's rights issue. Which certainly it is. Any woman should, that comes out for women's rights on the internet should, in no way, should be attacked like that. But in my opinion, if a man went and tried the same thing, he would have also gotten attacked. Not because of what they're -- what people are saying is wrong, but because this counterculture already knows. They already accept that women are equal, that people of other races are equal.
JOEAnd so when, especially the word that I heard, social justice warrior, that's actually a term that's used on the internet to kind of mock or make fun of people who are trying to champion the...
REHMAll right. Let's let Danielle comment.
CITRONRight. So, I think we can disaggregate those that are trying to engage in a message about the effects of journalism and political correctness from the targeted attacks of individuals. That are being masqueraded or sort of cloaked in this idea of oh, we're trying to send a message about journalism and p.c. Whatever SJW, social justice warriors. But that's not the point. The point is that individuals are being stalked, harassed, threatened, in ways that jeopardize their lives. They're leaving their homes.
CITRONAnd so the real question is we have crimes towards and civil rights violations. Whatever the message that folks are pretending is really the story, no, in fact, the story is stalking and harassment.
REHMAll right. And let's go now to Jordan in New Milford, Connecticut. Hi, you're on the air.
JORDANHello there. My name is Jordan. I'm a game journalist for blackmanandrobin.com. And I've been following Gamer Gate since its start. It seems that a lot of people who have been using Gamer Gate for harassment have been waiting for a very long time for a good excuse to attack females in the game industry. One of the women from the start of it, Zooey Quinn, for example, she had been harassed like a year or two before Gamer Gate on account of her game, Depression Quest.
JORDANWhich was controversial, because it was a text adventure. It's a very complicated ludic discussion. I'm not going to go into that. But the point is that these people have been waiting a good long time. And for me, as a game journalist, I mean, unfortunately, these people in Gamer Gate have used the idea of game journalism ethics as a shield. And then, by using that as a shield, that attracted people that are actually, honestly interested in ethics in game journalism.
JORDANAnd so, I've decided not to go up against Gamer Gate, because I do honestly feel that some of those folks really want to use, really are interested in honest reporting in games. However, I've decided not to be in favor of it either, on account of the misogynists who are in it.
CITRONI think that's right. We've got to separate these two things. And it's unfortunate that the constructive conversation about, you know, ethics in journalism. That should be talked about in ways that are separated from this online targeted abuse of individuals.
REHMDanielle Citron. She is the author of "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace." She's professor of law at the University of Maryland. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to go back to this question of revenge porn. And the leaks of nude celebrity photos over the last few months. Amanda, remind us of what happened.
HESSSo, in August, dozens of female celebrities found their personal photos hacked and published on sites around the internet. It was one of those things where, you know, I think there's a lot of debate about how gendered online harassment is. In this case, at least, it is obvious. The only men whose naked photos were published on the internet are men who happen to be dating Kate Upton. Or Allison Bree, or another female celebrity. And so, it will be interesting to me to see how this all pans out.
HESSI think a lot of times when a very high profile case of online harassment happens, we see a lot of action, so the FBI is investigating the incident. Google has been responsive to threats of a lawsuit and has been taking down links to photos. Reddit has also been more responsive than usual.
REHMAnd is that all because, I mean, has Google been cooperative, Reddit been cooperative because these are celebrities or would it have happened if they had been ordinary people?
HESSI think it's because they're celebrities. And I think that can be a good thing. So, it can raise awareness in the future about how this is something that affects everyone.
REHMAnd how does the ACLU feel about Google's actions, Lee?
ROWLANDWell, where there are issues of copyright infringement and, you know, intellectual property, that's not really an ACLU issue. Where we have expressed our concern on revenge porn has largely been the expansion of criminal laws that effectively criminalize nudity. And not because they're necessarily intending to, but because these laws can be drafted rather carelessly. And therefore, sharing an image of someone else nude without getting their prior consent could lead to a conviction.
ROWLANDIn some states, a felony conviction and a sex offense. And that's an extraordinary consequence for a behavior that I think we know the majority of people online are engaged in. Which is, viewing and sharing pornography, which is fully protected by the first amendment. So our concern is really making sure those laws, if they're passed, are narrowed to malicious invasions of privacy. And not simply the reposting of a celebrity nude.
REHMAnd Danielle, more than a dozen states have now passed these revenge porn laws in the last year. What do they do?
CITRONRight. So, I think they're a positive development. Some need to be more narrowly crafted, but what they do is criminalize the initial poster, the individual who is intentionally and knowingly invading someone's sexual privacy. Knowing that they were shared in confidence and trust and then posted or disclosed for all to see. And so I think those -- to the extent that those laws are covering narrowly, only knowing invasions of sexual privacy, they're rightfully invoking the criminal law.
REHMAnd one of our emailers asks, she says, she's from North Carolina. She says, I've been cyberstalked for years. I don't bother to report. I can't prove the origin, even though I'm quite sure of the source. What would you say to her?
CITRONRight. It's incredibly frustrating for victims. She sounds like so many people I interviewed for my book. And the hard thing is that law enforcement will often say to victims, well, you identify the person. You hire a computer forensics expert. And that's a tough burden, certainly, on victims. And I think being part of this discussion will help raise awareness, training of law enforcement. And then conversations with intermediaries.
REHMAnd one last question from Jazz, who says, please ask about conspiracy as an available charge in the Gamer Gate case.
CITRONRight. And conspiracy law's really tough to bring to bear, because you need proof of an agreement amongst individuals, agreement to cyberstalk. And so, if there are, you know, emails between individuals agreeing, and sort of plotting and charting out attacks on individuals. It's -- I would say, probably unlikely that's the case. You know, you're seeing like a snowballing, one upmanship game, which is to the great detriment of victims, but it may be really hard to bring conspiracy charges against a cyber mob.
REHMDo you think that that could have been the case?
CITRONI mean, it might be, right? So, if you look at 8Chan and Reddit, there are -- there's conversation amongst posters about specific individuals, where they live. So, it might be that if you look at those threads, we could use conspiracy law.
REHMDanielle Citron. Professor of law at the University of Maryland. Author of "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace." Lee Rowland of the ACLU. Amanda Hess, staff writer at Slate. Thank you all so much, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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