Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cyber Civil Rights

Frank Pasquale

I just wanted to put up a note of congratulations to Danielle Citron, whose work Cyber Civil Rights was just published by the B.U. Law Review. I've seen Citron present the piece at a conference, and I think it really breaks new ground in applying venerable laws to the online environment. As recent controversies have shown, it's easy for online mobs to inflict real injuries on their victims--and women bear a disproportionate share of the abuse. Citron argues that "acting against these attacks . . . helps preserve vibrant online dialogue and promote a culture of political, social, and economic equality."

David Hoffman and I tried to organize an online symposium last fall to discuss Citron's work, but we couldn't get the schedules of participants worked out. This year we're going to try again, hopefully for early April.

If you'd like to suggest possible commentators, please email me.

One good side effect of the delay is that we'll also be able to discuss some of Citron's more recent work. Online attacks are getting more attention in the media. Evoking Catharine MacKinnon's work to end sexual harassment, Citron argues that naming and recognizing the gendered nature of many online threats is crucial to developing common cultural understandings that enable real democratic culture and participation online.

I really value that kind of historical perspective, especially after listening to Fred Strebeigh discuss his work Equal: Women Reshape American Law. Strebeigh "tells the story of the female lawyers who took on sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and violence against women," and the most remarkable part of the podcast was how many women resigned themselves to sexism in the legal profession even as they were beginning their careers in the extraordinarily discriminatory environment of the 1950s and 60s. I see Citron's work as another step in the consciousness-raising that brave feminists began decades ago.

X-posted to Concurring Opinions.

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