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Digital Discrimination

Danielle Keats Citron, University of Maryland School of Law

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This presentation was made as part of the 2010 Columbia University Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series.

Abstract

Social network sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack women and minorities. The attacks include rape threats, privacy invasions, defamation, and technological attacks that silence victims. Victims go offline or assume pseudonyms to prevent future attacks, impoverishing online dialogue and depriving victims of the social and economic opportunities associated with a vibrant online presence.

Although social and legal norms have dampened offline discrimination, the internet’s Wild West culture and architecture invites bigots to move their hatred to cyberspace. The Internet facilitates anonymity, loosening social norms that constrain noxious behavior. It brings people together – a benefit when used for good purposes but especially dangerous when cyber mobs band together. Moreover, unlike offline hate that loses its impact with time, online hatred can be permanent.

These are serious problems. Nonetheless, the public pays little attention to cyber hate. Law enforcement routinely trivializes cyber harassment of women and minorities, deeming it ranting victims can, and should, ignore. Police officers often refuse to pursue cyber harassment complaints on the grounds that the conduct is legally insignificant. Victims often do not pursue legal claims for fear that they won’t be taken seriously or that no law protects them. That is an unfortunate result of false information and mistaken assumptions—the law criminalizes cyber harassment and it may provide compensation for discrimination online.

Digital Discrimination aims to chart a way forward. Leaving well enough alone is not an option. The more that we ignore cyber hate, the more prevalent in mainstream social media it will become. Although law has an important role to play, the existing legal framework can only take us so far. Other institutions can, and should, tackle cyber discrimination, including online intermediaries, educators, and interest groups

Suggested Citation

Danielle Keats Citron. "Digital Discrimination" 2010
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/danielle_citron/26