Catherine J. Ross

Why is it so Hard to Rein in Sexually Violent Speech?

I’m honored to be part of this Symposium on Danielle Citron’s incisive and powerful Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. My comments focus on some free speech issues that persist despite Danielle’s determination to fit her proposals into existing First Amendment doctrine.

The speech at issue is largely aimed at individuals rather than taking the form of noxious group disparagement (racist or sexist rants about groups of people), but it is often based at least in part on gender, race or sexual orientation. Citron shows how the personal nature of the postings (often including the target’s real name and identifying information) can lead to the denial of job offers, loss of work for those who are employed, withdrawal from social media that are essential to success in many endeavors in the modern world, and loss of identity—as in the case of a woman who had to abandon a successful blogging career, a feminist speaker who could no longer use her real name when travelling or publicize her talks, and several women who felt they had to masquerade as men in order to participate safely in online forums. Citron persuasively demonstrates that online speech starting with one speaker too often transmutes into mob speech in cyberspace and may be linked to tangible intimidation, harassment and violence in the physical world.

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