Doctor Science Knows

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lawyer!Wank

There's an article in The Washington Post called Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web: Law Students Feel Lasting Effects of Anonymous Attacks. What it's really about is online stalking and harrassment of women, in this case female law students, at a forum called AutoAdmit. AutoAdmit (aka XOXO) is a website for anonymous posting about law schools and law firms, and is apparently a pretty popular place for young lawyers and lawyer-wannabees to go for information -- and trolling. I'm not going to link there, because the place is *skeevy*.

One of the students whose name and picture (taken from her Flickr account) were posted on a thread called "The “Most Appealing” Women @ Top Law Schools" is Jill of Feministe. I've been commenting at her blog off and on all day.

IANAL but I know a good deal about legal action against websites. AutoAdmit is certainly owed a Cease & Desist letter about the photos.

DNS records reveal that AutoAdmit is hosted by http://www.servint.net/. Their Terms of Service are here:
http://www.servint.net/contact/tos.php
and their Acceptable Use Policies are here:
http://www.servint.net/contact/aup.php

Later, in response to someone who calls himself "autoadmit deity" (but who later backtracked and said he's not actually connected with the site except as a poster):

The information posted is drawn from publicly-available databases such as these:

http://www.yale.edu/oldYaleInfo/directory.html

Are you guys really suggesting that NOT taking down posts with directory information is criminal?

I am boggled that someone running a high-traffic site could be so ignorant of basic netiquette.

Posting personal contact information (including home address, phone number, or cell number) about someone else on a public forum has been an Internet no-no since before your sun burned hot in space before there was "http". It is not generally against the law, but it is against the rules -- the rules of sense and human decency.

The reason it's against the rules (for those of you still wet behind the ears) is because cyberstalking and cyberharrassment are way too easy. They are so easy that putting personal contact info in public is considered ipso facto incitement to harrass -- even if there is no proof that harrassment takes place.

I'm not saying this is the law -- yet. But it's certainly something every sane site administrator or moderator knows, and you have no excuse for not knowing it. The very fact that you took down contact info for posters indicates that you do, in fact, know that this is over-the-line behavior.

What is striking about this particular upheaval is that a large, popular site could go on so long with no grasp of basic netiquette, and with a user base that never seems to have acquired a clue.

The Slashdot article asks if it's "Free Speech Gone Too Far?, but what I'm seeing is not free speech but the absence of socialization. I wonder what's causing such an incredibly dysfunctional system:

1. Is it something about the law itself? -- that so many lawyers and proto-lawyers immediately look for legal solutions and talk only about whether something is legal or not. They don't seem to spend any time asking whether it is right -- or whether it is just plain stupid. They certainly don't seem to pay any attention to any code of behavior that isn't in the law, and even then they wriggle and bitch.

2. Is it something about American law schools and firms? Are they choosing the most vicious, superficial, competitive students, and then putting them into further cut-throat competition? Several of the commenters at Feministe think that may be the case.

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