June 13, 2007

Should you sue people who say terrible things about you?

Eugene Volokh has more on the AutoAdmit case, noting the risks plaintiffs take when they sue. First, the lawsuit calls more attention to the scurrilous comments. Eugene notes, though, it's unlikely anyone hearing the AutoAdmit idiocy is going to believe it. (If so, shouldn't you lose on the merits?) Second, the plaintiffs are themselves coming forward with information that hurts their own reputation, notably the failure of Doe I to receive any summer job offers. Like me, Eugene doesn't believe in the causal connection between the AutoAdmit crap and the lack of success in the job market. Being skeptical of the causal connection, he does what an ordinary, analytical person would do and speculates:
[I]t seems to me that the likely reasons for Doe I's striking out were among the normal reasons why many people who look great on paper don't do as well in the hiring market as they'd like -- they don't seem that interested in firm jobs, their credentials aren't really that good, they come across as too quiet or nervous, they come across as too brash and self-important, they flub some questions, they rub the interviewers the wrong way, some of their professors are unimpressed by them and say so, and so on.
By making the causal connection an issue in the case, Doe I forces the defendants to try to prove that there are other causes. They'll want to get discovery from the law firms that interviewed her and find out what the reasons were. This could be quite bad. (I once testified in a federal case in which the law school was sued for reverse discrimination in hiring. I'd been a chair of the Appointments Committee, and I had to explain at length why the plaintiff's credentials were far below what we look for in faculty hiring.)

Even if the firms actually did take into account ridiculous material they found on line, they are going to minimize their own bad behavior, and:
What's more, the law firms aren't being painted as the bad guys in this law suit, so it's not a case where (for instance) someone sues an employer for discrimination and the employer's badmouthing of the plaintiff could be put off to the employer's racism or sexism or what have you. It's just sixteen law firms that come across as largely disinterested bystanders (despite the possible reason to shade the truth that I mention above, a reason that is likely not to be prominent in observers' mind) and that talk about how Doe I botched her interview, or about how her grades were really pretty weak. That's not exactly the best publicity for an aspiring young lawyer, especially given that the case about online chatter is likely to lead to online chatter.
And he's not even mentioning the negative effect of revealing your propensity to litigate.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds calls attention to Patterico's post -- which is also critical of me -- and says:
Patterico... thinks I'm wrong to be dismissive of the plaintiff's claims. Well, I'm pretty thick-skinned about Internet trash-talk -- when I teach libel I give my students a few choice search terms and let them see what people have said about me. They're usually appalled, but I've never sued anyone, and the list of things about which I might actually sue is awfully short. Besides, once you get past the puppy-blending stuff, who's going to believe much of anything they read?
And I could put together tons of terrible things people have said about me -- people who are actively trying to destroy my reputation, who publish many lies about me, and who allow their commenters to post using my name (even after I have repeatedly requested the deletion of those comments).

But I've never seriously considered suing anyone over it.... and not just because I'm hoping -- like Glenn -- that people won't believe it. It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech. These lawsuits have an ugly chilling effect, and I wouldn't want to be part of it.

I'm not saying there's nothing that would push me over the line, though, so don't take this as an encouragement to push the anti-Althousiana envelope.... not that I think those who toil in the genre have the creativity to push the envelope beyond the usual dumb stuff about my being an evil insane idiot who doesn't deserve to be a law professor.

104 comments:

SteveR said...

Its hard to imagine those who "toil in the genre" getting very far. To start with they can't even grasp simple sarcasm.

The only angle (and its a weak one) that seems to benefit the plantiffs here is to turn themselves into professional victims and write a book (complete with breasts on the cover) and make some speeches.

Doyle said...

when I teach libel I give my students a few choice search terms and let them see what people have said about me.

You must look forward to that part of the syllabus. Do any of the students look at you funny when you start grinding your various axes during their class time?

SteveR said...

Hmmm, is Ann teaching libel now just like Glenn?

Margaret said...

I agree that the plaintiffs are taking some pretty big risks. That's precisely why I admire them for bringing this lawsuit. Part of standing up for yourself means having the strength to not give a damn about the risks. Too often, potential plaintiffs let abuses pass because they are too worried about the risk. When that happens, the abuser wins.

Of course, there is a legitimate question as to whether the suit impinges on free speech. I am sure we all agree that free speech should not be absolute, so it is a question of where the law does or should draw the line. I am not an expert in this legal area, but as a common sense matter, I would not be offended if the AutoAdmit speech were considered beyond the pale. It went beyond just "mean." I consider myself a pretty tough broad, but a lot of the AutoAdmit speech quoted in the complaint struck me as pretty damn frightening -- intense hostility suffused with fantasies of sexual violence against two particular individuals. There were also factual statements about the women, including a reference to one of them having herpes. If these factual statements are false, that's classic defamation.

Also, why do you assume that the plaintiffs' attorneys haven't done their homework? I am guessing that they have already spoken with the hiring attorneys at the law firms that turned down the plaintiffs. I don't know if the plaintiffs are correct about whether the Auto Admit speech damaged their employment prospects, but it doesn't strike me as preposterous. Talented law students are a dime a dozen and law firms are extremely image conscious. Why take on a law student with baggage when there are plenty of available law students without baggage? (I work in a law firm, by the way, and have been involved in some hiring decisions.)

AJD said...

But I've never seriously considered suing anyone over it.... and not just because I'm hoping -- like Glenn -- that people won't believe it. It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech. These lawsuits have an ugly chilling effect, and I wouldn't want to be part of it.

Also, you'd lose! It works much better for you to nail your arms to the cross and tell us all how tough it is to be "attacked" -- read criticized -- in much the same style that you dish it out on a daily basis.

The A-House approach = waaaaaaah!

Dan said...

I wonder if it matters that both you and Glenn are law professors, while the plaintiffs are/were students, and arguably more susceptible to defamation. I also assume that Glenn hasn't been plausibly threatened with rape, and certainly hope you haven't.

(Is Glenn saying that "the puppy-blending stuff" is reasonably believable? Oh my . . .)

Y'know, there's a certain aspect of this argument that could be taken not just as descriptive (they're opening themselves up to a lot of trouble - suggesting that they either don't understand this, feel the potential payoff justifies it, or at least truly believe themselves to have suffered genuine and extensive harm) but prescriptive* - they should just keep their mouths shut, because if they complain (and litigate) about defamation and harassment, they're opening themselves up to defamation and harassment.

* at worst, punitive, though I certainly don't believe that's the case here.

Dan said...

" to nail your arms to the cross"

I can see how one could get the first arm nailed, but after that, one's really kinda stuck, or possibly an orangutan . . .

Hoosier Daddy said...

I'm hoping -- like Glenn -- that people won't believe it. It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech. These lawsuits have an ugly chilling effect, and I wouldn't want to be part of it.

Ann I have to disagree with you on that one. I think there is a fairly easy line to distinguish between offensive speech and defamation. Its one thing to call you an ‘evil insane idiot’ and to claim I saw Ann Althouse marching in a Nazi Party rally; or pulling tricks off campus. The first is a pejorative comment the other is a deliberate attempt to defame your reputation. There’s trash talk and then there is defamation and I know you as a law professor know the difference so perhaps it’s just a matter of degrees as to where we disagree.

I think one thing you have going for you is that you already have an established reputation as a respected law professor and author of a popular blog. So while some might disagree with your opinions, you already have an established rep and that’s a lot harder to discredit with simple Internet trash talk. On the other hand, a few unknown law students who normally would not be in the public eye, have disparaging comments about them plastered on the Web complete with pictures. So when most at that age are trying to establish a reputation, these individuals are already trying to defend theirs against alleged lies.

My two cents.

Ann Althouse said...

Hoosier: As I've said several times, I don't have a problem with claims for defamation and there may be some in amongst the jumble of that complaint.

And the notion that I have a permanent and unchangeable reputation is not at all true. It is however true that I have tenure, and what I mostly appreciate is that it frees me to speak. And one of the things I want to do is to argue for free speech.

blank said...

"Should you sue people who say terrible things about you?"

You know, I think your post title is a misrepresentation of the suit. These women aren't suing because people said mean things about them. Their contention is that the AutoAdmit posters (a) made demonstrably false statements about them and (b) presented credible threats to their safety.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether those allegations have merit, but to imply that the basis of the lawsuit rests with mean statements isn't really fair.

Luckyoldson said...

Ann,
And why do you not address this element of the suit?

"The claims are copyright infringement (based on someone's apparent copying of some photographs of Doe I to which the copyright was owned by Doe I), appropriation of name and likeness, disclosure of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress."

Ann Althouse said...

Lucky: I'm not a torts or a copyright expert -- like Volokh. I'm linking to his analysis.

Ann Althouse said...

Blank: I'm reacting to the lawyer's statement which I read as asking us to sanction material because of its offensiveness. We shall see if the copyright and tort claims are good. I'm not impressed by the complaint though.

blank said...

Ann, I agree with you that the lawyer's comment was ill-advised.

Regarding the debate over whether or not the AutoAdmit postings contributed to the plaintiff's (lack of) employment prospects: we don't know if they did, and it's possible we won't ever know.

But since it seems like the overwhelming opinion of posters here and elsewhere is that the AutoAdmit nastiness likely had no effect, I'd like to say that bloggers and blog readers are probably not the best sample group.

There are plenty of semi-Luddites out there who don't understand the mechanics of message boards and don't have experience with the odd psychology of anonymous internet speech. I think it's quite possible that someone without the tech-savvy to put the nasty stuff in context would Google a candidate's name and simply conclude that the candidate was a lightening rod for controversy.

PG said...

Prof. Althouse has taken “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.

and chosen to focus solely on the last sentence in isolation, rather than reading it along with the rest of the quote. Such a contextual reading would make clear that Rosen is describing the "offensive words" that he thinks his clients should be able to protect themselves against. Given that Cohen has pretty much invited a lawsuit by saying that if there's a real complaint, the women should be suing rather than engaging Reputation Defender, I'm only sorry that Ciolli was named in the suit instead of Cohen.

Prof. Reynolds's analysis, comparing this private litigation going before a jury, to federal government-imposed punishment with no opportunity to actually get a sense of community standards, is unsurprisingly shallow.

All that said, I agree that the complaint is poorly written and the copyright claim is weak. They should have gone for diversity jurisdiction, claimed $75,001 in actual damages (lost wages, emotional distress, etc.) and left out paragraph 15 of the complaint, which kills their ability to allege diversity.

Margaret said...

It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech.

Hope I am not posting too much but I have been thinking about this situation some more. The above quotation strikes me as decidedly odd, given the intimidating nature of the statements directed at the plaintiffs. The AutoAdmit posters intentionally tried to intimidate the plaintiffs just for existing!

Again there is a huge distinction between merely having terrible things said about you and experincing what the plaintiffs went through. In my career as a lawyer, I have been able to shrug off all sorts of negative statements about my looks and my intelligence. I have tolerated crowds that were booing me at public meetings. I have stared down ornery judges. The AutoAdmit language is in a different category altogether. I have never been tempted to sue anyone, nor have I quailed at things people have said about me -- but no one has ever gone on at length in public and in graphic detail about their desire to do sexual violence to me.

It's offensive to me that people on various sites have characterized the plaintiffs' reaction to violent and threatening language directed at them as a weakness. Somehow not fighting back when someone pisses all over you is supposed to show strength? How convenient for the abusers.

Bruce Hayden said...

Somewhat repeating what I said over at volokh.com, the copyright infringement claim was not drafted very well. They had Doe II claiming ownership of the copyright in five photographs in the body of the complaint, but then Doe I was using copying of those photographs as the first claim for relief - all by herself. And, this copyright claim is the basis of federal jurisdiction.

I am quite interested in finding out how these five photos, the ownership of the copyright (and presumably authorship?) which is claimed by Doe II (or was it I?), that presumably show one or the other or both of the the women in a bad light, ended up in someone else's possession.

There have been a number of criticisms made about the quality of the complaint. The problem for these women is that they will soon be applying for jobs as attorneys. So, not only are they coming across as litigation happy, but as doing sloppy work too.

Hoosier Daddy said...

And the notion that I have a permanent and unchangeable reputation is not at all true.

Actually I was stating that it would be much harder to tarnish your reputation as an established law professor as opposed to a third year law student who no one knows but is brought into the public eye as the result of a slur.

No one has an unchangeable reputation, however, its easier to trash some over others.

vrse said...

A law student could have done a better job posting about this topic. Mediocre...

Pogo said...

vrse reinterpreted:
"...and you a law professor".

How novel.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

Dan said...
"I wonder if it matters that both [Ann] and Glenn are law professors, while the plaintiffs are/were students, and arguably more susceptible to defamation."

How does that follow? I would have said precisely the opposite: The average law student is obscure beyond their peer group. They hope to acquire (but have usually not yet acquired) precisely that which law professors have and defamation attacks: reputation.

Dan said...

"The AutoAdmit posters intentionally tried to intimidate the plaintiffs just for existing!"

I think perhaps one important issue here is that Ann doesn't understand/accept this analysis, nor even - sorry to get so gut-thinky - feels it. This would seem to tie into the debate over hate-crime laws (something I don't know Prof. Althouse's stance on). To the extent that one's looking at the AutoAdmit statements merely as talk, it's understandable that free speech concerns might arise, and even dominate. Viewing them in this other light - where harassment, stalking, threats of sexual violence, and over-the-top objectification are often not just/really "expressions of sexual desire", but attempts to intimidate women seen as threatening their masculine identity and status by not conforming to traditional gender roles (see for example the recent study (PDF) by Berdahl on "The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women" (non-pdf FDN summary here), things look very different - more like burning a cross than pissing on one, perhaps.

But really, one doesn't have to accept that whole framework, or even not drop serious free-speech concerns, to also get that this wasn't just an issue of some crude words, and that's where it gets odder. Blank argues that "to imply that the basis of the lawsuit rests with mean statements isn't really fair," and margaret notes how "people on various sites have characterized the plaintiffs' reaction to violent and threatening language directed at them as a weakness." Ann - and some others - seem to be consistently minimizing the alleged offensives, and rhetorically presenting the plaintiffs as weak, whiny little girls who really should just shut up and take it (it not really being serious, harmful, or threatening) - there's almost an echo here of playground attitudes about kids who go tattle to the teacher. I haven't heard 'they were just playing around,' or more grownup versions yet, but Ann's insistence that the rape threats weren't really threats seems a bit similar.

Again, I'm not even saying one might not decide that the importance of free speech overrides the other issues, or that this or that aspect of the case - even the whole shebang - is misguided/nonsensical/etc. It's that these issues don't seem to be recognized - indeed, appear to be actively minimized - here.

Dan said...

simon: "How does that follow? I"

Two ways, in this argument: 1) as students, they really don't have any measure of job security, formal (ie, tenure) or not, and 2) exactly because "the average law student is obscure beyond their peer group," such remarks could take over their reputation, especially in more conservative, risk-adverse or (as blank points out), simply non-tech-savvy situations. See also hoosier daddy's 11:02 comment.

Beth said...

This has been bugging me for awhile:

"and you a law professor" needs a comma: "and you, a law professor."

Okay, talk amongst yourselves.

P. Rich said...

margaret said:

"...I admire them for bringing this lawsuit. Part of standing up for yourself means having the strength to not give a damn about the risks."

Or not being smart enough to accurately weigh the potential consequences. I would have to know the individuals in question personally before I would venture an opinion on their courage.

These days a lawsuit can simply mean too many Angry Studies courses on the grade sheet, or too much testosterone in the diet, or a prosecutor looking for money and fame. Courage is usually pretty far down the list, unless one tends to regularly conflate it with righteous indignation. Truly courageous people do not throw legal hissy fits.

Ann Althouse said...

PG: "They should have gone for diversity jurisdiction, claimed $75,001 in actual damages (lost wages, emotional distress, etc.) and left out paragraph 15 of the complaint, which kills their ability to allege diversity."

That material relates to service of process. It's not written in terms of the citizenship of the parties, and I doubt very much that many Yale law students are citizens of Connecticut. They are there for three years and planning to leave.

Margaret, when I wrote "It offends my principles and my sense of decency to intimidate people who are exercising free speech," I was specifically referring to my own disinclination to sue people who say bad things about me. You also write "Somehow not fighting back when someone pisses all over you is supposed to show strength?" and this is something I have also been thinking about. But as I've written on earlier posts on this controversy, I think going to the government as a victim and expecting to be helped is not as useful as becoming a stronger, more independent person and taking a superior attitude by not suing and relying on shaming or ignoring them. I think acting sensitive will not help women in the long run and that it empowers the idiots who do the nasty talking. Maybe crushing them would be empowering though. But I don't like it. It chills other speech and it lets the jerks look sympathetic. Keep in mind that Yale law students are powerful people in this world, and the guys doing the pseudonymous posting are awfully lame.

Bruce: "I am quite interested in finding out how these five photos, the ownership of the copyright (and presumably authorship?) which is claimed by Doe II (or was it I?), that presumably show one or the other or both of the the women in a bad light, ended up in someone else's possession. "

The pictures were chosen because the guys thought they'd found the most beautiful law students. The women looked great in the pictures, so they wanted them up. The bad light has just got to be commenting on the pictures in a sexual way -- such as saying the woman has large breasts and that they would like to have sex with her. How imperious do you have to be to get this upset over an incident that began by selecting you as beautiful? An awful lot of this Third Wave feminism is led by women who are drawing attention to how good looking they are. I find that strange (even as these notably good-looking women purport to express the feelings of women who don't look so good). People have to be free to comment on how people look in publicly displayed photographs.

Dan: "...attempts to intimidate women seen as threatening their masculine identity and status by not conforming to traditional gender roles..."

I'm well aware of feminist literature. I've been reading it for 40 years and living through all the phases. Believe me I know this stuff. But within that analysis, I'm saying that the women are behaving according to traditional stereotypes by seeking male protectors and premising their lawsuit on victimhood and sensitivity. I don't think this helps women overcome conventional domination. These poor, pathetic men drool over pretty women. I say laugh at them. Call them poor pathetic me drooling over pictures on the internet. And pick a worthy adversary... or represent a worthy victim.

"...but Ann's insistence that the rape threats weren't really threats seems a bit similar."

I have consistently said that if they can prove their received true threats, it's different.

And on reputation: who do you think gets a bigger damage award in a defamation case, someone with a big reputation or someone with little reputation at all?

Simon said...

Dan,
Okay - so the point isn't that such things threaten harm to an existing reputation, they threaten to create a reputation. That makes sense.

vrse said...

Over at Patterico:

"Prof. Volokh’s analysis, in my view, is everything that Prof. Althouse’s is not. He shows a familiarity with the underlying allegations and an understanding of their outrageous nature. He shows a knowledge of the applicable legal standards and an understanding that there may well be a legal case against the posters, based on the defamatory and threatening nature of several of the statements. In short, he is not flippantly dismissive of the claims — either their outrageousness, or their legal merit."

Thanks for making UW LAW look good. Once again...

Roost on the Moon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roost on the Moon said...

This is a joke an Englishman once told me. (I think he set it in Scotland):

A tourist bellies up to the bar next to a man drinking by himself, and tries to strike up a conversation. The tourist introduces himself, and the bitter-seeming stranger tells him that his name is William, but that's not what he's called. "Did you see that wall, stranger, on your way in, the retaining wall across the street? I built that wall with my own my hands, just my nephew and I. I'm an excellent mason; I even cut the stones the myself. The folks around here could well call me "William the Mason" or "Bricklayer Bill".

"And in fact, years back, I built this very bar that we now lean on. I was quite the carpenter in my day. "Woodworking William", that has a nice ring to it, don't you think? "Bar-builder Bill", that'd work, too.

The tourist nodded agreeably.

The stranger stared into into his drink and muttered, "Yeah, but you f*ck one sheep..."


(Sorry, just a little reputation humor.)

Mark said...

I can’t say that I have looked at every post on every blog that has discussed this issue, but I think I am the only hiring partner to weigh in. I have to say, Ann that I think you are too soft on those who took you to task for disparaging the plaintiffs’ case. I do not understand why law professors and law students can’t get it though their heads that the skill of a great law student are not those of a great lawyer.

Now to be honest, my firm does not hire top students from Yale. However, in my past life I worked closing with the hiring partners of firms that did that type of hiring. Their attitude was no different from mine. They were looking for people who have lawyer (not student) skills. Life experience outside of law is a big plus. Passions for things beyond the law are a big plus. People skills are paramount. Hiring partners ask: Is this an engaging, teambuilding person? Or, to the negative, is this a person who really wants to do research and work alone? I find out bad stuff all the time about the young associates we hire just from My Space. It has never influenced me. Could it? Sure. Drug use or anything illegal would raise red flags. But if it was someone in the top few finalists for a job I’d always ask them to explain. As for hiring a woman who some internet idiot said was a slut, please. I’m not going to base any hiring decision to the irrelevant rants of some hormone-crazed 23 year old. Ms. Doe needs to get her mind around the fact that in a very tiny (but important and powerful) minority of the legal profession her academic accomplishments are highly prized. Everywhere else they are a gold crown declaring you are a geek. I think the case is a stupid as stupid can be. It suggests that just because you are a great student you have right to a great job. What a crock.

Mcallen3

paul a'barge said...

not exactly the best publicity for an aspiring young lawyer

I think this hits the nail. The aspiring young lawyers are probably pretty mediocre and by now have realized that they're not going to get much in the way of plum job offers.

So, as they settle towards the bottom of the barrel, they lash out.

They'll be using AutoAdmit to explain to their grand children why they never became someone.

Margaret said...

Mark,

I am a lawyer at a law firm. While I have not made hiring decisions, I have given input on applicants and I have been privy to hiring discussions at two different law firms.

My sense is that most hiring partners would not actually believe the specifics of all the allegations on a site like AutoAdmit. But a lot of partners might think, "Where there's smoke, there's fire. There is obviously SOMETHING about this person that is drawing all this negative attention. Why take a risk on her when we have a lot of other capable applicants who are not the object of so much public hostility?"

Another issue is law firm image and law firm marketing. How would you feel if your clients were to google a new lawyer in your firm and discover explicit discussions about her tits, her sexual proclivities, and her ranking in a law student beauty contest? Maybe most of your clients would be too savvy to give that kind of thing any weight, but are you confident enough in your clients that you would take that risk? And is the nastiness on AutoAdmit something you would want associated with your law firm?

I honestly don't know how most hiring partners would feel about this kind of situation. But it wouldn't shock me that a lot of law firms would prefer to hire an applicant with a clean internet trail. As you said, a Yale law degree isn't the be all and end all. Recent law grads are somewhat interchangeable.

Ann Althouse said...

Margaret: Even if they believe it, what's to believe? That's she's really good looking? They can see what she looks like. They might think she has herpes? Why would that matter? That she causes sexual desire in men? They can see that by looking at her too. That there are some idiots on a chat board who type about their sexual desires? It has no relevance.

And I do understand that women worry about violence, but suing some childish guys who used their pictures in a beauty contest just doesn't connect up well enough to that problem, which is widely spread among most women.

Mark said...

Margaret:

In answer to your comments.

My sense is that most hiring partners would not actually believe the specifics of all the allegations on a site like AutoAdmit. But a lot of partners might think, "Where there's smoke, there's fire. There is obviously SOMETHING about this person that is drawing all this negative attention. Why take a risk on her when we have a lot of other capable applicants who are not the object of so much public hostility?"

Of course, I cannot speak for everyone else, but I would not think twice about it. Sadly or gladly, sexual morality is of no interest to me (and I'd guess most hiring partners). The reason is that the partners, the folks who really count with clients, frequently have seriously messed up personal lives. We'd get nowhere if we worried about that sort of thing. Consider the really gross claims here: “I wanting to rape her” or “she has herpes.” Neither of these would be of any interest to me.

Another issue is law firm image and law firm marketing. How would you feel if your clients were to google a new lawyer in your firm and discover explicit discussions about her tits, her sexual proclivities, and her ranking in a law student beauty contest? Maybe most of your clients would be too savvy to give that kind of thing any weight, but are you confident enough in your clients that you would take that risk? And is the nastiness on AutoAdmit something you would want associated with your law firm?

do you really think we worry that clients will not choose our firm because someone on the ineternet said bad things about one of our young associates? New associates are expected to work hard and be pleasant. Being decorative is nice too. Otherwise, new associates are not of much importance to the business of the firm. No client hires based on the firm’s young lawyers.

I do not mean to seem harsh, but the thread is about the merits of the case. Ms. Doe is full of herself. I think the plaintiffs are just dumb to think these comments--though gross--could have any impact on hiring. I do not speak of damages she might get for her hurt feelings.

-m

Dan said...

Ann:
In your most recent (2:56) comment, you seem again to constantly minimize the nature and seriousness of the alleged behavior - which is different, I think, from simply not engaging it in favor of other issues. " How imperious do you have to be to get this upset over an incident that began by selecting you as beautiful? is really sort of misrepresenting what happened, despite being technically accurate. I l agree that "People have to be free to comment on how people look in publicly displayed photographs," (at least legally!), but again, that's not really what this is about.

"But within that analysis, I'm saying that the women are behaving according to traditional stereotypes by seeking male protectors and premising their lawsuit on victimhood and sensitivity. I don't think this helps women overcome conventional domination.

As I said, "there's almost an echo here of playground attitudes about kids who go tattle to the teacher.." This almost comes across, to me, as a grown-up version of the perennial advice to bullied children (ignore it/hit him back); the insistence that these women not utilize the legal structures society has put in place for this purpose strikes me as very strange - again, almost paralleling schoolyard contempt for children who seek help from an authority figure. "Male protectors?" Were they supposed to go out of their way to specifically choose a female lawyer, etc.? And what about other kinds of feminist litigation, from the recent pay discrimination case to sexual harassment to - is this all playing the traditional feminine victim seeking a male protector? This all seems very odd.

"These poor, pathetic men drool over pretty women. I say laugh at them.

Ideally, it would be this way, sure. Again, though - even if only to mock these rather scummy people - you're really minimizing their behavior. I can't help but wonder if the comparisons you've drawn between the treatment you've received and these alleged offenses is making you underestimate the situation, but whatever, hey, who knows. Perhaps you've even been subjected to similar or worse, toughed it out/laughed it off, and simply prefer not to mention it; what do I know? But that's a lot to ask of a person, and it's not clear why women - anyone - should be required to muster that (fairly impressive) sort of strength, presence of mind, etc. (Nor is it clear how advising women to put up with it, perhaps with a mocking grin and little laugh, will actually help matters, as opposed to litigation, especially if combined with social pressure.)

See also Jill's post at Feministe, Take it like a man. Perhaps not your favorite person, but she is, after all, someone with very relevant experience . . .

"I have consistently said that if they can prove their received true threats, it's different.
My law education was strictly at "Law & Order" U. - what does 'proving it' consist of? (in other words, given my ignorance, are you talking about showing that the threats were indeed made, and might reasonably have been assumed, by some sensible standard, to be "true" threats, or . . .?)

Simon: "That makes sense."

Cool - at least, that's my understanding, largely informed by various blog posts . . . The situation also makes me think about Goffman's work on "spoiled identity," but that's just me, and this idea is not involved in any of the legal (or other) arguments (although one could see this as a case where claimed "blemishes of individual character" might serve to create a stigma - an "attribute that is deeply discrediting" - causing people to "exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce [their] life chances . . . We construct a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain [their] inferiority and account for the danger [they] represent . . . and we tend to impute a wide range of imperfections on the basis of the original one" - )

Dan said...

"some childish guys who used their pictures in a beauty contest "

Ann, please stop.

Ann Althouse said...

Dan; "I can't help but wonder if the comparisons you've drawn between the treatment you've received and these alleged offenses is making you underestimate the situation, but whatever, hey, who knows. "

Dan, I was born in 1951. If you don't think I was subjected to sex discrimination far beyond what Yale law students in their 20s get today, you are in some weird denial. I only wish I had learned back when I was in my 20s that I had it in me to be tough and not pathetic. These women are immensely privileged compared to what I went through. I don't know how old you are, but some of the things you are saying about me, supposedly in the name of feminism, are quite disgusting. And these completely privileged young women are not helping other women.

Mark said...

Ann:

you are exactly right. as an employer, I know my young lawyers are going to go up against people with PhDs in insulting them. I'm much more concerned in them showing they can take an insult in stride than in whether they might, or might not, sleep around.

-m

Margaret said...

Mark, I am glad to hear that you wouldn't hlod the AutoAdmit postings against the plaintiffs in making a hiring decision. Unfortunately, I don't share your faith that hiring partners and clients in general are as focused on substance as you are (er, notwithstanding your appreciation for "decorative" associates).

I disagree that marketing considerations are never a factor in hiring recent law grads, because I have seen firsthand that they are. For example, my firm prefers to hire Ivy Leaguers because it looks better to have a lot of Ivy League graduates. I also think a firm is going to steer clear of a recent grad who might behave inappropriately around clients or cause an embarassing local headline (i.e. "Smith & Jones Lawyer strips off top and dances on bar at local watering hole") It may depend on the market you're dealing with, but I think that a lot of places aren't going to want to risk hiring someone when there is reason to think she may be overly flamboyant or inappropriate. And the prejudices against "loose" women still run very deep.

Based on my own involvement in the business and marketing decisions of law firms, I cannot dismiss the plaintiffs concerns as "just dumb."

Margaret said...

Paul a'barge says They'll be using AutoAdmit to explain to their grand children why they never became someone.

Eh. These are Yale law students and therefore will likely find someplace to land. Or they can always hang out their own shingle and prove their legal abilities through hard work and perserverence. I don't think there is too much you can do as a newbie lawyer to permanently wreck your reputation. Life is long and memories are short. And principle is important.

Also, some people like me are likely to be impressed by their response to the AutoAdmit nastiness. I am more impressed than I would be if they just "rose above" the rape fantasies and allowed them to continue.

Margaret said...

an employer, I know my young lawyers are going to go up against people with PhDs in insulting them . . .

In 10 years of practice, I have been in confrontations with some very nasty judges and lawyers. None of them have had lengthy graphic discussions on my sexual habits or how they want to "hate fuck" me.

Ann Althouse said...

Margaret: I agree that there is some very ugly stuff there. The hard question is whether it's tortious not protected by the First Amendment. I'm not prejudging all those details -- as I've said repeatedly. I don't know why you're repeating the allegedly defamatory statements. In fact, I'm going to delete that post of yours for that reason. I mean... what the hell? If the statements are damaging, why are you repeating them??? Supposedly, you're really senstive to the problem.... except when you're not. Jeez!

Ann Althouse said...

And what I deleted had stuff that I've seen on AutoAdmit but not in the complaint... and you weren't quoting the complaint. You're giving out something that either is or isn't the plaintiff's LSAT score? Why?????

Margaret said...

Well, of course, I repeated them -- in the context of discussing the defamation/false light case in response to YOUR question about which statements would be believed! (You wouldn't set me up, would you?)

And, of course, the plaintiffs are repeating the same statements in order to bring the defamation case! That's how defamation cases work! I suppose you can view that as one irony of bringing this kind of suit -- or, if you are a plaintiff, you may view it as a chance to proclaim far and wide that certain things said about you are not true!

Margaret said...

Just to clarify the question I was responding to was from Ann at 6:25 p.m.: Even if they believe it, what's to believe? I am glad that you are keeping an open mind on whether the statements are tortious. So am I.

Also, I have only been working off the complaint. The reference to the LSAT score is at paragraph 36. I haven't read the actual threads, only the complaint.

Ann Althouse said...

You're right. The allegation about the LSAT score is in the complaint. I didn't remember seeing it there. I did not like the way you had all those negative facts repeated. Try to refer to them, citing the paragraph in the complaint, without actually repeating them. I really don't like to see that here. I'm not saying you did something wrong, just that I didn't want it on my blog.

Margaret said...

OK!

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry to be brusque about it, but it really bothered me.

Margaret said...

All's well!

John said...

"If the statements are damaging, why are you repeating them???"

If the statements aren't damaging, why are you deleting them???

Ann Althouse said...

John, maybe this will give you some insight into my standards. I am defending the free speech of AutoAdmit, where they say things I will not accept in my place. I resist the excessive use of the courts (not all of the use of the courts), but I strongly support the acts of individuals to create and propogate norms. I'm really trying to do something here... including helping you see my point.

Dan said...

"Dan, I was born in 1951. If you don't think I was subjected to sex discrimination far beyond what Yale law students in their 20s get today, you are in some weird denial."

Which is, of course, a possibility I suggest immediately after the bit of my comment that you quote. And indeed, having born about a quarter-century later, I grew up in a world that was already quite different, just as the (presumably even younger) plaintiffs grew up in a world more different still. I have no doubt you were subjected to sex discrimination far, far beyond the average 20-something Yale Law student (though hopefully not public rape threats). And - something I should have said a bit ago - I think your advice is well-intentioned; while people might criticize such an attitude on various grounds, clearly it worked for you in that time: certainly people adapt many rational strategies, accommodations, etc., to deal with oppression and discrimination, often ones rejected or not understood by a more advantaged generation.

Yet, of course, even the history of second-wave feminism is one of varied responses - social and cultural actions directed at overturning domination, sure, but also legislation and litigation.

"These women are immensely privileged compared to what I went through."

Sure. Still not as privileged as me, though, merely because I possess dangly bits and such, which seems an odd state of affairs.

"some of the things you are saying about me, . . . are quite disgusting

Well, I'm a quite disgusting person, no doubt, and some of my comments aren't very complimentary, which is right up there with claiming that one's diseased or should be raped. You should laugh at me and call me pathetic!

"And these completely privileged young women are not helping other women."
Why not?

Again, my big issue here is that you appear to be constantly minimizing the alleged actions in a way that really goes beyond questions of what actually happened, or the worth of specific legal strategies, or the wisdom of litigating this at all, or etc. (See also Patterico's latest post on the subject). The impression one kinda gets from what you've been saying is, more or less, that these two misguided young women are suing because they're so upset thanks to some silly little guys who basically directed a digital wolf-whistle or two at them, and maybe one of them said something a little mean and untrue. Whatever happened, this bears little resemblance to the actual allegations, which, granted, you don't seem to have obsessively scrutinized so as to memorize every detail. Anyway, I really don't understand why you're doing this. Or do you feel that this isn't the case?

Ann Althouse said...

"clearly it worked for you in that time:"

No, you're quite wrong. I am sharing something I learned only in the last few years, and I lost out on a lot in my life because I didn't figure out things earlier.

If you want to understand more of what I think about the Third Wave approach to feminism in the AutoAdmit controversy, click on the AutoAdmit tag on this post and read some of the older posts. I'm not going to rewrite all of this. But I think these elite, privileged women are terribly wrong and that many women are hurting their potential by listening to them. They are leading women backward. But I'm not writing my treatise on the subject here.

John said...

I'm Patterico, by the way, but I can't seem to get Blogger to acknowledge my "real" moniker. I don't own all the comments under the name "John" here either, which makes things confusing.

I think if we're going to have this discussion you have to be open about the nature of the threats. It's patronizing to protect these women from further damage by deleting specifics from a complaint that was clearly written with a view to being quoted in the media. Deleting the nasty specifics can also contribute to the impression, which some here clearly have, that you are minimizing the nastiness of the allegations by deleting the ugly details.

Dan said...

"No, you're quite wrong"

My mistake - you make this quite clear in the earlier comment.

Dan said...

" click on the AutoAdmit tag on this post and read some of the older posts. . . . I think these elite, privileged women are terribly wrong and that many women are hurting their potential by listening to them.

OK.
Well, I'll grant that this is a sincere concern of yours, and indeed that the speech on the internet internet is probably harder to control (for better and worse) than, say, speech in a school or workplace. To be honest, I'm not seeing a lot of explanation in the posts (not yet at comments) as to why this is bad for women, as opposed as being bad for free speech (except the assertions that it's a mistaken overreaction, and therefore they would be better to laugh it off and not get all worked up (the whatever to accept what I cannot change?),- perhaps be able to focus more on the 'real' issues, and also not imagine they can (entirely?) control their environment).

A few things:
What I saw of the AutoAdmit post about you is much, much, much milder than the alleged comments.As a demonstration of your ability to laugh and accept the internet for what it is, it's not just weakened by - as you acknowledged - your privileged position re: employment, etc, it's also weakened by the fact that it's so poor a comparison to what the Does were subjected to.

Re: your post on Kathy Sierra ("Nevertheless, threats of violence aimed at an individual are different, and people need to learn that lesson very clearly."") -
Defamation issues aside, the point here is that the AutoAdmit comments were in fact threats of - at least possible - violence aimed at individuals.

And that gets back, again, to the thing I'm really bewildered and disturbed by - your constant minimizing of the alleged behavior. I'm not at all sure why the belief that "these elite, privileged women are terribly wrong" in any way requires you to do so, and indeed, given that you're counseling "laughter and a thick skin," it would seem that you'd want to be quite upfront about how thick a skin they might need, and what they might need to laugh at!

Do you feel that you've been giving an accurate impression of the allegations?

Dan said...

And that should be "some of the AutoAdmit comments were . . .", of course.

halojones-fan said...

I have to say, a common thread in this argument seems to be "well, nerds will be nerds."

That isn't particularly persuasive.

I really don't have a problem with assholes on the internet being required to stand up and identify themselves...or for sandbox owners to be required to prevent those who play there from throwing shit at the uninvolved public.

Ann: Hey, here's a question. What are your feelings on Allison Stokke's situation? Should she just lie back and take it? After all, it's just the Internet, right? It doesn't mean anything, right? This Internet thing--just a silly fad!

Ann Althouse said...

Halojones: I've never said anything like "lie back and take it" and you're presenting what I said that what is destructive to my reputation, so you should take it back and apologize. And no, I don't like what happened to Allison Stokke.

Dan: "your constant minimizing of the alleged behavior. "

That's right. I think it's internet garbage and that women would be better off -- more liberated -- if they wouldn't get distracted and bogged down by this. That is what I'm saying is "wrong." I think the lawsuit is probably the wrong place concentrate one's attention. And again, as I've said repeatedly defamation and true threats do matter and on the right proof, courts should provide remedies, but empowering every idiot with a keyboard to bring you down is not the best way for women to become powerful. It reinforces the traditional stereotype of victimhood and sensitivity.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm Patterico, by the way..."

Thanks for coming by to talk about this over here.

"I think if we're going to have this discussion you have to be open about the nature of the threats. It's patronizing to protect these women from further damage by deleting specifics from a complaint that was clearly written with a view to being quoted in the media."

I understand this problem, but I have to use my judgment about what I want to see written on this blog. I deleted something that I felt was harmful to an individual. I now see that she has this in her own lawsuit, which changes the way I would balance the factors in deciding what I accept having written here.

"Deleting the nasty specifics can also contribute to the impression, which some here clearly have, that you are minimizing the nastiness of the allegations by deleting the ugly details."

That wasn't my motivation, but I understand how it can give that impression. This was the case of a factual assertion -- a person's LSAT score -- where I did not know if it was correct or not, and it looked like a repetition of the defamation. I note that the complaint doesn't make it clear that that was her score and I assumed it was false, since she was admitted to Yale.

If the comment had been in the form of saying "the complaint alleges (quote)," I wouldn't have deleted it.

I wasn't deleting the quotes that arguably pose a real threat of rape, but a factual assertion that goes to the issue of why a law student may have had trouble landing a summer job.

I agree that we can talk about whether a reasonable person would read a particular quote as a threat (as opposed to a crude expression of feeling). But I want asterisks in the f-word, because I'm concerned about filters blocking my site (as I've said elsewhere).

Vail said...

My Mother-in-Law works with people trying to get TPOs (temporary restraining orders) and has noticed a very large jump in "cyber-stalking". Some of these lead to actual violence. These guys on AutoAdmit posted some of the women's addresses. Can you point out how exactly these women are supposed to know that these guys are not going to hurt them? Is there some magical formula you can give us to know when to "suck it up" or fight back? Or should they have just waited with their hands folded for just one of those guys to go over the edge (remember the VT shootings) and decide to "teach her a lesson."

Dan said...

"I think it's internet garbage and that women would be better off -- more liberated -- if they wouldn't get distracted and bogged down by this.

Well, realistically, this is surely reasonable in some instances and far less so in others, with, say, hypothetical borderline-illiterate commenting that '"Jane Doe" is a doo-doo head" at one end, and the treatment of Kathy Sierra at another. (I mean, she might have been better off if she could have just ignored it, rather than "empowering" those people, but that's a bit much to ask, for numerous reasons (including the possibility of someone carrying through on the threats).

But while you may even be generally right (after all, I have essentially no knowledge of the law, and no firsthand experience of being a woman), you really - just to repeat myself again, how exciting - seem to be minimizing the alleged behavior, something I can't see as being required by this stance.

After all, if one's advising women to just laugh off such things, it would seem best that one was upfront about what was to be laughed off, no? Perhaps you're trying to frame such comments as trivial so as to deprive them of power, but then this loses touch with the reality of what is being said and done, whether regarding them as trivial is simple, reasonable, or even wise.

And in apparently trying to frame the commenters as kinda lovelorn losers, as guys just speaking very crudely (boys will be boys?) about how attractive the women were, as poor, pathetic men drooling over pretty women, you're presenting a specific view - however well-intentioned - that perhaps is inaccurate, unhelpful, and in some ways works to sorta excuse - or at least whitewash - this kind of behavior. (It also seems to contradict what's being claimed, on unclear grounds)

When I argued above that the alleged behavior probably has very little to do with gauche expressions of sexual desire, and much more to do with intimidation, etc., you replied "I'm well aware of feminist literature. I've been reading it for 40 years and living through all the phases. Believe me I know this stuff. But within that analysis . . ." - which I read as at least a provisional non-rejection of the analysis. But if it's possibly accurate, it would seem important to come to terms with/call attention to it, even if one is to reply with a shrug and scornful laugh. - I do tend to see the treatment of Kathy Sierra and the Jane Does - despite the differences - as coming from the same source, being symptoms, even if of varying severity, of the same ailment.

"It reinforces the traditional stereotype of victimhood and sensitivity.

But I think we can in agree that in some cases people are being victimized, and that their responses are reasonable, not 'sensitive'. Doesn't downplaying the alleged behaviors obscure this issue?

"This was the case of a factual assertion -- a person's LSAT score -- where I did not know if it was correct or not,
See? It's working, even now . . .

"I assumed it was false, since she was admitted to Yale.
But remember, the complaint alleges that "various posters suggested that Doe I had bribed officials at Yale Law School to gain admission . . . and engaged in a lesbian affair with the Dean of Admissions. . . ". Certainly I would like to think that this would be swiftly dismissed as absurd online garbage, but is it entirely implausible that some folks might take a smoke/fire approach, or even be unconsciously influenced by it despite their better, rational judgment?

But maybe forget the defamation claim for now - I imagine that we'd need (possibly unavailable) concrete evidence to be certain one way or the other - let's discuss the emotional distress claims, for example, " whether a reasonable person would read a particular quote as a threat (as opposed to a crude expression of feeling)." . . .

(I should note that you do refer at one point to "some really ugly stuff there" - but you also have many remarks along the lines of describing the case as "suing some childish guys who used their pictures in a beauty contest" - although not in the most recent comments . . .?)

Ashley said...

Ann, do you realize that by deliberately disparaging the way these men have threatened these women, you're saying it's ok to threaten to rape people? Do you honestly think rape is normal and right? Social acceptance of it, which you obviously show by siding with the potential rapists and not their targets, is what allows rape to be so prominent. People like you help destroy the lives of 1 in 4 women by making it socially acceptable to do so.

Honestly, you make me sick.

Ann Althouse said...

"in apparently trying to frame the commenters as kinda lovelorn losers,"

Dan, you are really misreading what I'm trying to say. I recommend belittling the men, not letting them off the hook. My method is also an attack on them, and I believe it is a more effective. Those who want to construe it as a real threat -- and a civil lawsuit doesn't actually save you from violence, you know -- are telling the men they are scary and manly. I'm recommending embarrassing them and making them feel small and unmanly. I think it's more effective. If you actually feel physically threatened, take physical action. Arm yourself. Learn self defense. Get good security on your house. The idea that a judge caring about you will save you from real-world violence is delusional. Personally, I have been in a situation where I have considered getting a restraining order against someone, but my decision not to was based in part on concern about enraging the person and provoking violence and in part on a realization that it would give him the satisfaction of being a special part of my life.

Ashley said.."Ann, do you realize that by deliberately disparaging the way these men have threatened these women, you're saying it's ok to threaten to rape people?"

Ashley, that is one of the stupidest and most twisted things anyone has every writtn around here. Where did I say it was acceptable? You owe me an apology and a retraction. I make you sick? Try using some understanding and maybe you'd see that you're making yourself sick. You should be ashamed to write such crap on the web. Do you think I should be able to sue you for damages?

Vail said...

Arm yourself? What if you have a child in the home? Or are physically unable to weld a gun or baseball bat? You want us to turn our homes into forts so we don't look sissy to a guy? Please. I would rather use the justice system (such as it is). If that makes the man feel all manly as his money goes bye bye or he's lead off to jail to make friends with "Bubba" I can totally live with that.

Margaret said...

Ann at 11:16 p.m.: But I think these elite, privileged women are terribly wrong . . .

What on earth do the plaintiff's "privilege" have to do with it? I didn't realize that women who attend elite law schools were expected to forfeit their right to respond to assaults on their dignity and sense of security as part of the price of admission. They should be so grateful to have a place at the table with the boys that they shouldn't complain when they are treated badly? And this is a feminist position?

And how are the plaintiffs privileged compared to the commenters on AutoAdmit exactly? The commenters (also presumably law students) get to indulge in violent rape fantasies / threats about the plaintiffs under the cover of "boys will be boys" and "they are just giving you a compliment" while the plaintiffs are supposed to sit back and do nothing! Some privilege.

Also, we don't even know anything about the plaintiffs' backgrounds or experiences other than their admission to Yale Law School. How do we know what life experiences (maybe even experiences with rape) may have informed the plaintiffs' reactions to the AutoAdmit threads?

Dan said...

I'm not convinced that belittling them would be - at least consistently - more effective - especially if this sort of behavior really is fueled by perceived threats to masculine privilege and status. - And why shouldn't a recipient of such behavior also be concerned that making them feel small and unmanly would just enrage them, and perhaps turn potential threats into actual ones, not entirely unlike your concerns over getting a restraining order? - Good thing that turned out alright (presuming that it is no longer an issue, hopefully), but . . . I mean, self defense is important, but . . . . and I didn't think the idea was that "a judge caring about you" would help, but rather that one was utilizing law enforcement to protect against possible harm - a very imperfect protection, sure, but . .

I don't think (and I don't think Ashley does either) that you're intentionally and knowingly giving the thumbs-up to rape threats - but (second verse, same as the first) by minimizing the alleged behavior, you do almost seem to be kinda ignoring it or presenting it as not that big a deal (even if litigation is not the answer, and/ or even if the threats are not really credible, people going on about wanting/intending to rape a clearly identified & located private individual isn't nothing.

Anyway, incidentally, did you make a brief comment at the "Take it like a man" Feministe thread?

Ashley said...

Ann, I hear tell you're a law professor. Is this true? If so, you should know that someone expressing their opinion of a person (the "you make me sick") is fundamentally different from posting a person's contact information, whereabouts, pictures and information on their family, and then say how much they want to sodomize and rape people.

You owe these women an apology. You owe many many women an apology. And yes, i can assure you that our society's tendency to side automatically with the male perpetrator belies a tacit acceptance of violence against women. You do exactly this. It's no secret you're misogynistic, but to think that I owe you an apology for calling you out on it? Hah!

Keep in mind, I haven't attacked you. I haven't threatened you. I haven't even called you names. I merely made an observation about your nature and your motives.

Why don't you just laugh it off? That's what you coyly advise the targets of AutoAdmit to do. And here you aren't being threatened.

Ann Althouse said...

What privilege has to do with this: it seems to create a sense of entitlement to control what other people say about you. In this case, I grant you, the defendants may very well be quite privileged, but a case establishes law and will be used in other situations. This is the leading edge of something you should worry about. Consider the chilling effect. Many powerless individuals are using the internet and relying on pseudonymity. Widen your perspective a little and think about who will be hurt.

As for trying to protect yourself in the physical world: of course, it can be hard and often fails! But court orders don't work magic. And how much freedom do you want to trade in exchange for security or more likely a false sense of security. BTW, are you a big hawk in the war on terror?

Ann Althouse said...

Ashley: I'm just lampooning you enthusiasm for lawsuits. I'm not going to sue you.

Ann Althouse said...

And, by the way, calling me "coy" is sexist. Don't you know? Apologize!!!!!

Ashley said...

Ann, I have no enthusiasm for lawsuits. There are very few situations under which I would sue. This is one of them. It's illegal to threaten to bomb someone, it's illegal to threaten to murder people (at least government officials) but it's not illegal to encourage people to gang bang a law student and then tell people EXACTLY how to find them? Yeah. right.

I have to ask, are you parodying yourself now? "Coy" is sexist? Just, wow.

And for the record, I won't apologize because I've done absolutely nothing wrong. You'll further notice that I am still here talking with you. You ran to Feministe, said one idiotic line, and ran away. Can you not handle yourself over there?

As you said today :
"But I think these elite, privileged women are terribly wrong and that many women are hurting their potential by listening to them. They are leading women backward."

I think you're leading women backward with your tacit acceptance of threats of violence. Why don't you write a post about how horrible it is that women are getting targeted and harassed online? How men are using their pseudonymity to threaten women with impunity? Why do you prefer to ridicule the women for standing up for themselves and DOING something about it?

Let's see if you have the guts to answer that question.

Vail said...

I am confused... I know I'm not a lawyer, but if someone (who knows where you live) threatens you with violence, that is against the law, not free speech, correct? For example if someone said to Bush "I'm gonna come and shoot you" even if they aren't planning on actually doing it, he gets a visit from the men in black. Why is it that the President's life (or quality of life) more important then mine? I pay taxes, I deserve to feel safe if someone starts threatening to do me harm. Does Bush laugh at threats to his life? Does he tell the secret service to ignore them so he looks more manly? Heck no. I think that you're loosing sight of the really important thing here. They THREATENED these girls. They knew where they LIVED. They knew what classes they took. Those women have a RIGHT to be able to attend school and feel safe from these men.

Dan said...

Well, I do think it's a good thing that women would feel "a sense of entitlement" to control harassment, defamation, and rape threats that other people are directing at them.

I'm not sure the degree to which seeking legal remedies to harassment, defamation, and rape threats are really going toss chilled online speech down a slippery slope to Democratic Underground posters being hauled away to secret prisons or whatever - indeed, to the contrary, I think that there might be a specific and welcome chilling effect against online harassment, defamation, and rape threats, often - although not solely - against women. Perhaps, however, you can convince me of the error of my trading freedom-to-make-rape-threats for security ways. That has very little to do with the point I've been stressing - to wit, granted that reasonable people might disagree on the possible threat to free speech here, or the most appropriate limits, why have you been persistently understating the alleged behavior? Do you feel that free speech is so at risk that you must minimize what these women claim to have been subjected to - presenting it, ludicrously, as "some guys who used their pictures in a beauty contest"?

Forgive me for doing such a remarkable impression of a particularly annoying broken record, but if you've addressed this actual point, it must have gone over my head a bit.

(And really, I consider myself a big fan of free speech, but I do think that exceptions for harassment, defamation, and threats of violence are not entirely unreasonable. One might feel that the the facts in this situation probably don't measure up - as you certainly seem to do - but should the plaintiffs not have a chance to make their case? Is all litigation regarding claims of harassment, defamation, and threats of violence to be discarded because some cases might be meritless, or do you feel that such exceptions actually are unreasonable? Or are they only unreasonable in the case of anonymous individuals on the internet? Or . . .?

Margaret said...

Ann says:

What privilege has to do with this: it seems to create a sense of entitlement to control what other people say about you. In this case, I grant you, the defendants may very well be quite privileged, but a case establishes law and will be used in other situations. This is the leading edge of something you should worry about. Consider the chilling effect. Many powerless individuals are using the internet and relying on pseudonymity. Widen your perspective a little and think about who will be hurt.

I dunno. I don't think there is any evidence that people from certain walks of life are more likely than others to file suit for defamation, intentional infliction, etc.

And while I am not an expert in this area of law, I am not convinced that this case presents any cutting edge issues (except for the fact that the internet allows wider dissemination of damaging statements than in the past, thus increasing the likely damages). But I understand that the law on defamation and threatening is pretty well established. That threats of physical violence are not protected by the First Amendment is nothing new.

I guess we are back to the question of whether the statements ARE truly defamatory or threatening.

Let's suppose a young male lawyer were subject to extensive on-line discussions about what an awful person he is coupled with graphic descriptions of how the commenters would like to beat the crap out of him, coupled with information as to where he could be contacted and found. Would anyone call the young male lawyer a whiny baby for seeking legal redress? If he brought suit, would anyone question (like Mark did above at 7:46 p.m.) whether the lawyer would be able to cope with the rough and tumble of practicing law? I smell a sexist double standard being directed at the AutoAdmit plaintiffs.

Ann Althouse said...

Ashley said.."Ann, I have no enthusiasm for lawsuits. There are very few situations under which I would sue. This is one of them. It's illegal to threaten to bomb someone, it's illegal to threaten to murder people (at least government officials) but it's not illegal to encourage people to gang bang a law student and then tell people EXACTLY how to find them? Yeah. right."

So, it's possible that this will meet the standard for intentional infliction of emotional distress. That requires and analysis of the facts and a focus on what particular defendants did, but clearly Ciolli didn't do that and neither did most of the defendants. You're painting with too broad of a brush, but as I've been saying all along, there may be some good claims in there.

"I have to ask, are you parodying yourself now? "Coy" is sexist? Just, wow."

Yes, it is. And by the way, you misused the word, so you're no expert on what it means. If you're not sensitive to the sexist connotations of feminism... I guess you don't know too much about feminism.

"And for the record, I won't apologize because I've done absolutely nothing wrong. You'll further notice that I am still here talking with you. You ran to Feministe, said one idiotic line, and ran away. Can you not handle yourself over there?"

I haven't checked back in over there. But generally I write on my own blog. I could spend all day reading and writing over there, but I doubt if it would be very productive, considering how they spew over me. I'm not a masochist.

"I think you're leading women backward with your tacit acceptance of threats of violence."

And I think you are lying. Shame on you.

"Why don't you write a post about how horrible it is that women are getting targeted and harassed online? How men are using their pseudonymity to threaten women with impunity? Why do you prefer to ridicule the women for standing up for themselves and DOING something about it?"

What I do is ridicule the men for what they are doing. I believe this is a more effective way of helping women.


Vail said..."I am confused... I know I'm not a lawyer, but if someone (who knows where you live) threatens you with violence, that is against the law, not free speech, correct? For example if someone said to Bush "I'm gonna come and shoot you" even if they aren't planning on actually doing it, he gets a visit from the men in black..."

But this case isn't a criminal case. It's a suit for damages. You have to consult the criminal statutes and see if the facts fit it. If your question is whether there's a free speech defense, the answer is that it depends on whether there is a "true threat," which can be a hard question. I think what was written in this case wasn't a true threat, but it's a fact question that may eventually get decided.


Dan said..."Well, I do think it's a good thing that women would feel "a sense of entitlement" to control harassment, defamation, and rape threats that other people are directing at them."

I agree, but look at that complaint and look who they've sued. What have all those defendants, individually done? What did Ciolli do?

Margaret said..."I guess we are back to the question of whether the statements ARE truly defamatory or threatening."

Right. And which individual defendants made the statements.

"Let's suppose a young male lawyer were subject to extensive on-line discussions about what an awful person he is coupled with graphic descriptions of how the commenters would like to beat the crap out of him, coupled with information as to where he could be contacted and found. Would anyone call the young male lawyer a whiny baby for seeking legal redress?"

Absolutely! Everyone would. In fact, he probably wouldn't file suit because he'd know everyone would think of him as big wuss, and that would hurt his reputation more than the stupid trash talk.

"If he brought suit, would anyone question (like Mark did above at 7:46 p.m.) whether the lawyer would be able to cope with the rough and tumble of practicing law?"

They sure as hell would!

"I smell a sexist double standard being directed at the AutoAdmit plaintiffs."

Yeah, me too. But the other way.

Margaret said...

Really?!?!? I strongly doubt it, but I guess there is no way to test it out.

If indeed, the male lawyer in my hypothetical were to be considered a whiny baby, there is something very wrong with our society. I like to think that my fellow lawyers are more adult than to impose ridiculous standards of false machismo on people who have been threatened with violence.

Ann Althouse said...

Margaret: You don't think people lean on men about anything that looks effeminate? Think it through. This is a feminist post, but doesn't your ideology require you to be vigilant about homophobia? Oops!

I see from the trackback links that Ashley has a blog where she calls me names and admits her dependence on the feminist bloggers (it was rather apparent that she was not thinking for herself even as I expended my time trying to reason with her).

Here's some Ashley for you: "Ok, I admit it. I tend to piggy back on other blogs. I'm new at this, so cut me some slack. Pretty please? Ok, good. Today Pandagon has an excellent and inspiring post...."

Jeez... good lord.... Cutesy, fawning, dependent, cloying... but oh, you want everyone to believe you're the a really, really good little girl feminist!!! Positively Orwellian!

I can only hope Ashley is extremely young. Did you get your gold star from the superior feminists? Try thinking for yourself. It might eventually occur to you that it's good feminism to think for yourself. Scary, I know. But worth it.

Revenant said...

Would anyone call the young male lawyer a whiny baby for seeking legal redress?

Ann's right -- he absolutely would be.

Vail said...

Wow, I now have a mental picture of you, Ms. Althouse, as a snarky blond cheerleader in high school. Boy howdy, if this is how you react as a lawyer, I'm suprised you managed to make it at UW Madison as a professor. So far I have not been impressed with your views on how a good feminist should act. Personally. my Mother in Law (who got her Masters in Bacteriology from the UW back when very few women did sciences at all and now works to help domestic violence victims) is who I see as a real Feminist. You, however, seem to act like being a Feminist means acting like a southern belle... protect the image at all costs and make sure that you have daddy's rifle under the pillow at night.

Ann Althouse said...

"Wow, I now have a mental picture of you, Ms. Althouse, as a snarky blond cheerleader in high school. Boy howdy, if this is how you react as a lawyer, I'm suprised you managed to make it at UW Madison as a professor. So far I have not been impressed with your views on how a good feminist should act.... You, however, seem to act like being a Feminist means acting like a southern belle... protect the image at all costs and make sure that you have daddy's rifle under the pillow at night."

Do you think you got ONE THING factually right there? You did not. Not even the blonde. But good for you for judging people by their immutable genetic characteristics. Can you spell B-I-G-O-T?

John said...

"I deleted something that I felt was harmful to an individual. I now see that she has this in her own lawsuit, which changes the way I would balance the factors in deciding what I accept having written here."

This appears to confirm what I suspected: you didn't read the complaint before you wrote your post.

Vail said...

(laugh) which part did I not get right? Lawyer? UW-Madison? Oh wait that's two things... as for my mental picture, that is my OPINION. I'm pretty amused over your responses. Personally, if this is all you have, I don't think you would have intimidated the Admit guys at all.

Dan said...

"This appears to confirm what I suspected: you didn't read the complaint before you wrote your post.

You know, if this is the case - or at least didn't read all that closely- , it's interesting to note that the (wait for it . . .) minimizing-of-alleged-behavior that I've been going on and on and on and on about pretty much stopped right around that point, as if she had suddenly taken a closer look and realized exactly what some of us folks had been complaining about. If that is what happened, well, that's good. At this point though, it really would be great for her to explicitly comment on this, not because I want to rub her nose in it or anything, but because, imo, it's really important to correctly describe and strongly reject this kind of behavior, other issues aside.

John said...

I actually think her post made a good deal of sense if viewed purely as a reaction to the comment made by the attorney -- or if carefully restricted to claims against people whose only sin was to make rude sexual comments.

But when you include the context of the startling allegations actually made in the complaint, the post seems oddly dismissive. Subsequent acknowledgements that there "may" be some good claims in there somewhere strike me as an awkward attempt to reconcile the original reaction (based on the article) with the realization that the complaint's allegations were far worse than the article described.

A little more forthrightness would be helpful. Were Ann to simply acknowledge that she didn't read the complaint when she first posted, and give a forthright opinion based on what's there, that would be fine.

But I get the impression that she's trying to have it both ways: maintain the original attitude that the women are acting weak -- while acknowledging that there "may" be reasons for them to have a strong reaction to what happened to them. It's not working, for those of us who have been paying attention.

For example: she maintains that she "was subjected to sex discrimination far beyond what Yale law students in their 20s get today." I'd be fascinated to know what Ann experienced that was far beyond threats of rape, repeated allegations of herpes, accusations of a lesbian affair with an admissions dean, and the like. Those are all fairly described as forms of sexual discrimination, and I'd wager that they measure up pretty nicely to anything Prof. Althouse has personally experienced. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Joan said...

I'd be fascinated to know what Ann experienced that was far beyond threats of rape, repeated allegations of herpes, accusations of a lesbian affair with an admissions dean, and the like. Those are all fairly described as forms of sexual discrimination...

No, these are forms of sexual harassment, not sexual discrimination. There's a difference.

John said...

OK, you have a point there -- but I think they're related.

Methadras said...

Unless someone is attacking your reputation, your livelihood, your familial ties, or making slanderous or libelous claims without proof in a public or even private venue, and maybe a couple of other conditions I can't think of at the moment, then bringing suit because your feelings may be hurt is foolish.

Someone in here said that they admire the plaintiff for taking such a risk because not doing so allows the abuses and the abusers to continue their verbal/textual assault against you. That may be true, but sometimes turning the other cheek can be as effective. However, the lesson that is left with us (if I may invoke Christ on this one) as was said by an infinitely greater power than I, "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Turn the other cheek and offer it to the attacker. For me, it means that some things you should let pass by turning the other cheek, but if those people wish to continue to attack you even though you've offered the other cheek then what do you do? You fight back. That's the moral for me. Don't be a victim, but don't be a push-over either. Sometimes, if someone disparages your name, look at the disparaging remarks and see if there is enough rope to let those who said it hang themselves and be seen for the fools that they are. If there is merit and venom in their attacks, then defend yourself accordingly.

Margaret said...

I see another sexist double standard in addition to the one I pointed out earlier. Let's assume for the moment that the plaintiffs are acting like whiny babies, as Ann suggests. If a man were to act that way, he is just a wimpy guy. But if a woman acts that way, she is setting "women" as a whole "back." Treating women as representatives of their entire sex rather than as individuals with individual strengths and flaws is a classic form of sexism.

On a different point, Ann says in response to my hypothetical about the treatment that might be accorded to a man similiary sitated to the plaintiffs: Margaret: You don't think people lean on men about anything that looks effeminate? Think it through. This is a feminist post, but doesn't your ideology require you to be vigilant about homophobia? Oops!

First of all, I don't have an ideology that "requires" anything because I am not a dogmatic thinker. However, I am certainly concered about poor treatment of gays and of people who don't meet standard gender roles. I agree that men are often treated badly if they are perceived as effeminate. I just don't agree that a man filing suit (as in my hypothetical at 1:13 p.m.) would be viewed as effeminate or wimpy, certainly not in legal circles. And again, I think if your perception is true, it would be outrageous for a man enduring this kind of thing to be expected to just endure in silence.

Methadras, I agree that turning the other cheek (or letting your opponent hang himself with his own rope) may be an effective tactic in many circumstances in life. But not here. These guys are bullies, and bullies generally need to be stomped on.

I was taught to hit back in playground fights as a kid, and this litigation strikes me as the adult equivalent of hitting back:
"You make life unpleasant for me? Then I'm gonna make it very unpleasant for you. And guess what? I am past the point where I CARE about the risks to myself." That's a pretty scary thing to hear.

Ann Althouse said...

john: "she maintains that she "was subjected to sex discrimination far beyond what Yale law students in their 20s get today." I'd be fascinated to know what Ann experienced that was far beyond threats of rape, repeated allegations of herpes, accusations of a lesbian affair with an admissions dean, and the like. Those are all fairly described as forms of sexual discrimination, and I'd wager that they measure up pretty nicely to anything Prof. Althouse has personally experienced. I could be wrong, but I doubt it."

I was subjected to the active discrimination of teachers and others barring me from activities and discouraging me from pursuing my education. I was given the message consistently throughout my primary and secondary education by nearly all the authority figures in my life that serious education and professions were for males only. I'm talking about very fundamental things that permanently stunted my career and my life and were very hard to recover from. You're out of your mind if you think lame insults and bogus threats are more debiliating. I could say much more here, but I won't.

13thvision said...

you characterize autoadmins threads as containing "lame insults" and "bogus threats."
how do you know that these threats are bogus? what if these women were to laugh off the myriad of rape threats and then, some poster feels emboldened by the mob mentality/dogpiling on the board and decides to attack one of these women? it wouldn't be difficult since they keep posting their contact info.
why are you minimizing rape threats? how are you helping women by telling them to laugh it off?

Ann Althouse said...

I don't know that these rape threats were bogus. As I've said 100 times, the lawsuit will look into whether these were real. The fact is rape is always a threat in life, whether someone is talking about it in a chat room or not. How I am trying to help women is by encouraging them to be strong and to learn to live in a way that doesn't empower men to break you with nasty words.

13thvision said...

but, you characterized the insults as "lame" and threats as "bogus." why?
with all due respect, there's a big difference between nasty words and entire threads dedicated to discussing the specifics of brutally raping female law students complete with linked pics and contact info. the students involved had repeatedly asked the administrators of autoadmit to take down their personal contact info, but they refused citing their right to "free speech."
instead of laughing it off like, "oh, it's just a bunch of silly boys threatening to gang-rape me again," they organized, mobilized and are currently fighting back by using the law and this is fitting considering they are law students.
you're a law professor, if you had a female student who was being threatened or harrassed would you advise her to "grow a thicker skin and laugh it off"? that's all well and good, but sometimes women it serves women to assess, confront and subsequently overcome potential danger rather than just avoiding it or "laughing it off."

just my two cents, but i'm real tiring of womens' actions are scruntized and catch-22-ed to death in situations like this.

13thvision said...

sorry for the typos, my hands are just a-flyin' 'cross the keyboard all wily-nily.

Methadras said...

margaret said...

Methadras, I agree that turning the other cheek (or letting your opponent hang himself with his own rope) may be an effective tactic in many circumstances in life. But not here. These guys are bullies, and bullies generally need to be stomped on.

I was taught to hit back in playground fights as a kid, and this litigation strikes me as the adult equivalent of hitting back:
"You make life unpleasant for me? Then I'm gonna make it very unpleasant for you. And guess what? I am past the point where I CARE about the risks to myself." That's a pretty scary thing to hear.


I agree with you 100%. I was taught that sometimes it's better to let things roll off your back and with that I became a very good student of human nature. However, I was also taught that, if I offer the other cheek and it still get's hit, then the gloves come off. I understand the nature of fighting back against those that would disparage you or make threats against you. I have no qualms with the autoadmit case going where it needs to go and I hope that the victim(s) here prevail, especially in the light of the types of threats that were made, but we need to treat these things situationally because it may set up a precedent by which anytime someone feels threatened over anything in an unjustified manner, then you could find yourself taking unnecessary risks with little to no gain.

pequod said...

They THREATENED these girls. They knew where they LIVED. They knew what classes they took. Those women have a RIGHT to be able to attend school and feel safe from these men.

Even looking at the case in the most positive light for plaintiffs, almost none of the defendants threatened them, knew where they lived, or knew what classes they took.

it's not illegal to encourage people to gang bang a law student and then tell people EXACTLY how to find them?

You're just being dishonest to make some point you want to make that is detached from reality. Even looking at the case in the best light for the plaintiffs, nobody encouraged anybody to gang bang them, and nobody told people EXACTLY how to find them.

Let's suppose a young male lawyer were subject to extensive on-line discussions about what an awful person he is coupled with graphic descriptions of how the commenters would like to beat the crap out of him, coupled with information as to where he could be contacted and found. Would anyone call the young male lawyer a whiny baby for seeking legal redress? If he brought suit, would anyone question (like Mark did above at 7:46 p.m.) whether the lawyer would be able to cope with the rough and tumble of practicing law?

Absolutely. I would be furious at him for undermining First Amendment rights. I think he should shrug it off and move on with life. If there were truly defamatory or threatening language, I would support his right to sue. If he sued defendants who made only non-threatening, non-defamatory sexually charged comments (that is, most defendants in this case), then I would be disgusted by his suit, just like I am disgusted by the plaintiffs and plaintiffs' lawyers in this case.

Vail said...

Even looking at the case in the most positive light for plaintiffs, almost none of the defendants threatened them, knew where they lived, or knew what classes they took."

Please go back and read the admit posts or read about the issue at http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/06/13/take-it-like-a-man/ or http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/06/12/autoadmit-sued/
as you don't seem to have all the info.

pequod said...

Vail,

For whatever reason, the specific post you're referring to is not in the complaint. These defendants are not being sued in regard to it. Do I think the poster of that particular post should be held responsible? Absolutely. It's disgusting and scary. But it's only fair to the actual defendants to look at what they actually, personally did. Like I've said repeatedly, many defendants appear merely to have written juvenile posts about how they would like to sleep with a plaintiff.

That's the problem with this lawsuit: The plaintiffs did not selectively target the evil offenders. For the most part, it seems like they ensnared law school dorks whose worst offense was forgetting that the public nature of their locker-room-like comments might embarrass the plaintiffs. Is what they did wrong? Yes. Is it actionable? No. Is there going to be guilt by association? You decide. Is this abuse of process under Connecticut law? Perhaps many defendants should take a look at that.

If the plaintiffs wanted to maintain a legitimate lawsuit, in my opinion they should have refrained from the emotional distress claims. Joining as defendants the one-sexual-post nerds and the evilhearted Googlebombers and threat makers is absolutely unfair.

Vail said...

I have a feeling as the case progresses that they will gather enough evidence to turn over to the cops for charges against some of the others. (shrug) But I'm glad that they are doing something. The more light shed on these guys the less likely that they might do this to someone else. If nothing else, it will be on record somewhere just in case, God forbid, one of them actually physically attacks someone.

Dan said...

" but, you characterized the insults as "lame" and threats as "bogus." why?

It would probably be best not to hold your breath while waiting for an answer - although I could be wrong, that would be nice.

"The fact is rape is always a threat in life, whether someone is talking about it in a chat room or not."

Yes. And? What is the point of this statement (besides to better set the stage for how having an anonymous crowd who knows one's name, where one lives and what one looks like going on about how they want to rape one might impact an individual living day to day (as women have to; of course, if they don't structure their lives in countless little ways around the avoidance of rape and then happen to be raped, someone will hasten to blame them for not being careful enough) with this awareness?


"How I am trying to help women is by encouraging them to be strong and to learn to live in a way that doesn't empower men to break you with nasty words."

This seems like a good aim in most situations. It would seem to me, though, that to the extent that the suit has merit, it is almost entirely irrelevant. In terms of the defamation and false light claims, insofar that the comments were even just believed to be damaging to the plaintiffs' career prospects, the women were in no way empowering men to break them. Rather, their actions in and out of the courtroom have consistently been focused on removing the men in question's power to 'break them'through defamation. In terms of the emotional damage charges - well, 13thvision, among others, points out the rather odd idea of telling women to just laugh off rape threats.

"I was subjected to the active discrimination of teachers and others barring me from activities and discouraging me from pursuing my education. I was given the message consistently throughout my primary and secondary education by nearly all the authority figures in my life that serious education and professions were for males only. I'm talking about very fundamental things that permanently stunted my career and my life and were very hard to recover from.

I don't know if John intentionally minimized what you and other women went through, as a demonstration - seems unlikely - but you responded quite reasonably, setting out concisely and convincingly how what you faced wasn't just some little nothing. Can you apply this to something else here, perhaps?

John said...

Ann Althouse says:

"You're out of your mind if you think lame insults and bogus threats are more debili[t]ating."

And Ann Althouse says:

"I don't know that these rape threats were bogus."

I have no earthly idea what you're trying to say, Ann.

You careen wildly between a) expressions of contempt for the claims (they are lame, bogus claims made by weak women acting like victims) and b) acknowledgments that there may be something to the claims.

And then right back to a) again.

"As I've said 100 times, the lawsuit will look into whether these were real."

I guess it's a good thing they sued, then!

In real life, of course, we all have to make judgments about threats without first filing lawsuits and conducting discovery to make determinations about whether they might be genuine.

These women evidently made the decision to take these threats seriously. I don't blame them for it.

And with all due respect to your opinion about whether I'm "out of my mind" . . . I think it's less than crystal clear that your admittedly regrettable experience with sex discrimination (which I have never minimized, Dan) is obviously and inarguably worse than 1) threats of rape; 2) pervasive accusations of venereal disease; 3) accusations of sexual assault; or 4) allegations that a plaintiff bribed or slept her way into law school.

Seven Machos said...

What was said that was false?