I’ve always been against anonymity on the web because it facilitates impostors and because it emboldens people, and brings out the worst in them. It’s made the internet into a dictatorship of idiots.
Years ago, a let a friend’s teenage son use my laptop to cruise the web, and within 15 minutes, this mild-mannered kid was publishing all sorts of offensive remarks.
In my book Web Stalkers Book, I expose criminal tactics, and note that the web has a serious problem, and it all centers around anonymity.
Most folks don’t know that 17 states have criminal libel laws for the web defamation.
Tim O'Reilly says, “If you start making offensive comments, they will be deleted from a blog. Don't give people that platform."
Unfortunately, many people disagree, pushing the limits of free speech. Even major web sites like Oracle Corporation host offensive lies about my wife, but it’s legal, especially since Section 230 of the DMCA exempts publishers from liability.
But as Tim points out, just because it’s legal does not make it right.
In this world of mob rule where the number of hyperlinks constitutes “credibility”, it’s interesting to know that Hyperlinking to libel is republishing the libel, and can get you sued.
Where are the limits to free speech?
Voltaire once said "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". However, even in the USA there are limits to free speech, especially when it defames or libels a person or group, and you cannot scream "fire" in a crowded theater. For example, this is defamatory to a whole group of people:
A blogger must follow the laws anywhere that their blog may be read from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. For example, in Zimbabwe "insulting the President" is by statute (Public Order and Security Act 2001) is a criminal offense.
Also note that a man was recently extradited from the USA to a foreign prison for his web site content.
In general, these types of statements are not protected free speech, but it’s the tort of libel, not criminal:
- Statements regarding improper sexual conduct. (For example, printing that an unmarried student is pregnant.)
- Statements that associate someone with a vile disease.
- Statements that accuse someone of illegal behavior.
- Statements that hurt someone's livelihood.
Statements that allege racial or religious bigotry.
Those are fighting words
The US Courts have the right to restrict speech if the speech constitutes "Fighting Words". Fighting Words means speech usually intended to be a personal insult and directed to a specific person, which by their very utterance inflict injury and tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.
The latest assault as noted in Kathy Sierra's blog brings this issue to a head, and it’s about time.
Frankly, I don’t understand why Kathy Sierra is hosting publications on her web site that she claims to terrify her, but it sure looks actionable to me. Perhaps it's a "honey pot" put up by the FBI to catch the scum.
Here are some samples, published in the Kathy Sierra blog. Judge for yourself if they are protected speech, or threats:
- f**king fascist bi**h
- Sounds like you're just a dumb bi**h who needs to learn to keep her mouth shut. If we were muslims then I'd gouge your eyes out with my fingers and skull f**k you.
- You are going to use the publicity of being an innocent victim of a hate crime to sell more books and dishonestly and unfairly besmirch a literary rival. I have to hand it to you, Kathy, you know an opportunity when you see one. It's just a shame you have to resort to lies because you've seen an opportunity to get rich quickly.
- Better watch your back on the streets wh**e... Be a pity if you turned up in the gutter where you belong, with a machete shoved in that self righteous little c*nt of yours...
- YOU FILTHY F**KING BI**H YOU'RE JUST A DIRTY WH**E. STAY AWAY FROM MY HUSBAND YOU DIRTY C*NT OR I WILL END YOU I SWEAR TO GOD. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING YOU F**KING DISEASE INFESTED SLUT.
- Your use of the phrase "death threats" in this post is an insult to people who have actually been threatened. You were the subject of a single anonymous e-mail from someone who found you "boring," and some sophomoric jokes from a group of old hand bloggers making fun of other old hands. Nobody has called you at two in the morning warning you to stay home. Nobody has thrown rocks through your physical window.
- Well, it's clear you've sf**kered in a lot of people who just don't know any better. Like I said before, it's a marvellous PR campaign you've launched and no doubt you'll get very wealthy very quickly because your adoring fans have been taken in completely by your peculiar brand of codswallop. You have learned the lesson of never giving a sf**ker an even break to absolute perfection.
- i smell a PUBLICITY STUNT
- What a pretentious c*nt you are. Stop wasting the police's time because the internet was mean to you.
SANE adults don't lock themselves in their houses because someone on the INTERNET said a few bad words. Get a f**king grip.
- None of what you listed are threats.
- what a bunch of crap. grow up, lady. i don't even know who the hell you are, and like more than 99% of the people in the world, could care less.
- if you no likee teh internetz, maybe you should try M O D E R A T I N G your f**king blog. IDIOT. stay home. nobody cares.
- WHATEVER BI**H. YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN STRF**K BY ANYONE BUT YOUR MOMMY AFTER YOU CRIED UP A STORM AT NOT GETTING ICECREAM WHEN YOU WERE A KID. GO GET RAPED OR MUGGED AND THEN GET BACK TO US. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT FEAR IS
- Thanks for making the internet one step shi**ier!
- I thought the first "death threat" she posted was funny. I think this lady needs to get over herself, people say some shit on the internet, cry me a river, build me a bridge and get over it.
This is not a simple issue, and it will continue to evolve. For the whole story, check out my book “Web Stalkers”: