[Len] Audaer's ordeal began on October 15, 2010, when he was summoned to a meeting with SUCOL Associate Professor of Law Gregory Germain due to "extremely serious" charges. In the meeting, held on October 18, Audaer learned that the charges involved "harassment" for his alleged involvement with SUCOLitis. The anonymous, satirical blog attributed obviously fake quotes to SUCOL students, faculty, and staff. The blog included a disclaimer stating, "No actual news stories appear on the site."So the blog names students and quotes them saying things that they did not say, and the idea is, it's satire and everyone should know that the quotes are fake. But how would you feel — in a tough job market — knowing prospective employers will Google your name and see that quote?
This is similar to a problem I have had with the blog Sadly, No!, which allows commenters to use my name and comment, pretending to be me. I complained, because I don't want my name attached to quotes that aren't mine, and the answer was that readers know it's satire.
Not all readers pick up on satire. (Remember Fox Nation picking up an Onion story about Obama and presenting it as news?) And satire usually has some element of truth in it. A real individual — especially a student who is looking for a job — has to worry about what people will think. And when readers enter a blog because they've Googled a name, they may not stay around long enough to absorb the context. If non-idiots can make a mistake about The Onion, which is a well-known and well-done satire, I would have even more anxiety about an obscure and possibly not-very-well-written satirical blog.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has picked up the story:
SUCOLitis aspires to be something like The Onion of law-school life. The Syracuse, N.Y., satirical news blog has attracted thousands of views with fake headlines about beer pong, third-year students serving burritos, and the election of the university’s “sexiest Semite.” It delights in attributing fake quotes to students and faculty, as well as to famous alumni like Vice President Joe Biden, who is quoted as calling SUCOLitis “even funnier than me.”I'd really like more information about this case, and the law school is suppressing it — apparently in order to protect the students who worry that their reputations are suffering injury. The blog is no longer public, so I can't see what kinds of fake quotes were used and how obviously satirical the writing was. Free speech is important, and I'm suspicious of charges of "harassment," but defamation is different. If you report that a person said something they didn't say, that can be seen as a lie.
Syracuse University officials aren’t laughing....
A spokeswoman for the law school, Jaclyn D. Grosso, won’t discuss details of the case. In an e-mail, she tells Wired Campus only that a faculty prosecutor has been appointed to investigate claims that a student violated the code of conduct, and to file a charge if appropriate.
She adds, “According to the faculty prosecutor, a motion has been filed with the hearing panel for a protective order to prevent public disclosure of the names of the students, faculty, and staff who were targeted in the blog, or who testify in the case, unless they consent to have their names disclosed. This was done to protect their privacy rights.”
Here's a hypothetical: A satirical blog aggressively goes after an individual law student, attributing all sorts of damaging quotes to him: confessions to drug use, cheating on exams, and plans to sexually harass co-workers instead of getting any work done if he gets that job at the law firm. Imagine a satirical blog, written anonymously by another student who's interviewing for the same job. You see the point.
And by the way, to be admitted to the bar, your need to pass a character review.