What If Internet Harassment Became a Crime? A Q&A With Danielle Citron
Post-the-Fappening, post-Amanda Todd, post Anita Sarkeesian, it is very hard to deny that the internet has a Harassment Problem. Not that people don't try it, nonetheless.
Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland, joins us today to discuss the realm of the awful-Internet and her preferred plans for dealing with it. She lays out a proposed scheme out in a new book, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, published yesterday by the Harvard University Press.
Citron advocates several different kinds of legal reform to address what I've privately come to think of as the "dickhead internet" problem. They boil down, though, to two essential proposals.
First, Citron is in favor of amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In a nutshell, Section 230 protects website owners from being held directly liable for content third parties post on their site, unless federal criminal law or intellectual property is involved. That provision is, for most modern media entities, a lifesaver. It means they're not liable for the garbage people (sometimes!) post in the comments.
But it's also been a lifesaver for revenge porn titans like Hunter Moore. Moore only got busted when the feds decided he'd violated a federal criminal hacking law. Citron would like to see the provision amended to "exclude the very worst actors: sites that encourage cyber stalking or nonconsensual pornography and make money from its removal or that principally host cyber stalking or nonconsensual pornography."
Second, Citron is a believer in actively legislating against the worst bits of the internet. She has, for example, been one of the people lobbying for properly-drafted anti-revenge porn laws. Those laws, which are showing up all over the country, criminalize the posting of someone's nudes without their consent.
In addition to criminal laws, Citron also proposes that we develop a scheme of civil rights remedies for victims of internet harassment, mostly by amending current state civil rights laws and federal laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Citron argues that such legislation would not fall afoul of the First Amendment because the First Amendment has never protected threats or harassment anyway.
As you can imagine, Citron's ideas are controversial. She told Vox, in a recent interview, that she feels she encounters much more openness to the idea than previously but her scheme still has powerful critics. Probably some of them are right here in our own comments. Join me and Citron below at 11 AM, EST, to discuss them.