For any of you who are still following the AutoAdmit case (background posts all linked here), one of the anonymous commenters, who uses the handle AK47, has filed a motion to quash discovery of his IP address and other information that would reveal his identity. The subpoena, apparently, violates AK47’s “First Amendment right to speak anonymously.”
Before we start, I should make it clear that I am not a party to this lawsuit, and so far haven’t been involved in it at all. But since my name came up repeatedly on the AutoAdmit boards, and since I have a whole lot of empathy for the Jane Does who filed the suit, I’m writing about it.
AK47 (known in the suit as John Doe 21) was a regular commenter on AutoAdmit, and was fairly well-known for his constant use of the n-word and other racial slurs. At issue in this case is his comment that “Women named Jill and [Doe II] should be raped.” In his motion he disingenuously argues that since Jill and Doe II’s first name are extremely common, his comment is “silly,” and the Does have no case.
But certainly context matters. Doe I, Doe II and myself were discussed on AutoAdmit so often that our first names were all commenters need to use to identify us. Writing “Women named Jill and [Doe II] should be raped” may not be a big deal on a random message board, but in a place where our pictures had been posted and much of our personal information given out, it’s a different story. Anyone who read that board with any regularity knew exactly who AK47 was talking about. He knew exactly who he was talking about, and to suggest that there’s no claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because he only used our first names is pretty pathetic. He also claims that his statement amounts to nothing more than “an unsavory, if silly, suggestion or opinion.” Apparently, if a statement is nothing more than a suggestion or opinion, it’s totally protected speech — even if it’s a suggestion to rape someone. So, to use a common example, if I walk into a crowded theater an scream “I think there’s a fire, I suggest everyone run!” when there is none, can I defend myself by arguing that “It was just, like, my opinion, man”? Can I use that same response if I pick a random student at my law school and post on Feministe that they had a lesbian affair with the NYU dean, that they have huge fake tits, that they have an STD, that they deserve to be raped, and that hey by the way here’s their full name, email address and phone number? But it’s just my opinion, man! Quit attacking my free speech rights.
In his motion he writes:
The words “Women like Jill should be raped” cannot be “outrageously” offensive to the average person since it is not directed at any person in particular, and likewise with the phrase “Women like [Doe II’s exceedingly common first name].” … Plaintiffs may have suffered some emotional harm as a result of other Defendants’ comments and activities on AutoAdmit, but that does not mean that John Doe 21’s statement caused any of that harm simply because it mentioned plaintiff’s very, very common first name.
Again, I call bullshit — and I think any reasonably intelligent judge will, too. In the context of AutoAdmit, “Jill” was me. Doe II’s real name was Doe II. The commenters knew it. They knew what we looked like, where we went to school, and what our last names were. They understood the running jokes about us. This “extremely common first name” business is absolute horseshit — AK47 knew who he was talking about. He didn’t pick those names at random, and he intended for commenters to understand who he was talking about. A very brief look at AutoAdmit itself demonstrates that — nearly every reference to the first names of the Does (which I’m obviously not going to give out) are about them. Nearly every reference to my first name is about me — and enough of them use my last name to make it clear who “Jill” actually is. Same for the Does. Either AK47 thinks that judges are morons, or he’s hoping he’ll get lucky enough to be granted a particularly stupid one.
He also doesn’t get to complain that he didn’t have proper notice when he’s intentionally made it difficult for the plaintiffs to identify and contact him, and when he continues to take steps to hide his identity and his contact information.
I do have sympathy of the argument that people shouldn’t be outed for making anonymous comments on the internet. And of course I believe that free speech rights apply anonymously online as strongly as they apply in “real” life. Identifying anonymous internet commenters can have a real chilling effect, and I don’t think that people deserve to be outed simply for saying things that others don’t like — even if those things are sexist or racist or offensive.
But AK47 is trying to carve out a right for himself that doesn’t exist anywhere in the real world. This isn’t about being offensive, it’s about destroying the reputation of a private citizen, and about threatening and intimidating them. Libel, slander and defamation are actionable, and you don’t get to say whatever you want about someone without consequences just because you post it on the internet under a fake name.
For context, here’s just some of what was said about the Does:
-”Doe II of YSL has huge fake titties”
-”YSL 1L [DOE II] HAS HUGE FAKE TITES AND IS UNIVERSALLY HATED”
-”i’ll force myself on her, most definitely.” (In a thread titled “Stupid Bitch to Attend Yale Law”)
-”I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly.” (In the same thread)
-”just don’t FUCK her, she has herpes” (In the same thread)
-”[Doe II] of Yale Law got a 159 on the LSAT” (in a post that encouraged other posters to “Make sure all the Vault 50s know it before she gets an offer” — in other words, the thread was created specifically to damage her job prospects).
-”The backstory is that [Doe I] has been having a lesbian affair with Yale Law School [redacted] Dean [redacted] while [redacted] has been on maternity leave. [Redacted]’shusband found out about this and went balistic. He contacted [Doe I’s] prospective employers in an effort to discredit her.”
-”Clearly she deserves to be raped so that her little fantasy word can be shattered by real life.”
-”i would like to hate-fuck [Doe I] but since people say she has herpes that might be a bad idea” (in a thread titled “Which female YLS students would you sodomize?”)
-”I’m doing cartwheels knowing this stupid Jew bitch is getting her self esteem raped.”
-”[Doe II] is into scat… At least that’s what a buddy of mine that goes to YLS tells me.”
-”[Doe II] the CGWBT sucked by cock for a P in Civ pro”
-”[Doe II] found dead in apartment!”
-”[Doe II] (YLS 09) IS AN ANNOYING, SELFISH CUNT. I HOPE SHE GETS RAPED AND DIES.”
But they have extremely common first names! And so does that girl Jill:
“I want to brutally rape that Jill slut”
“I’m 98% sure that she should be raped (if only in Internet Land)”
“Official Jill Filipovic RAPE Thread”
“I have it on good authority that Jill F has rape fantasies”
“what a useless guttertrash whore. i hope someone uses my pink, fleshy-textured cylindrical body to violate her” (from someone posting under the name “fleshlight”)
“for minimising this tragedy, she deserves a brutal raping”
“She’s a normal-sized girl that I’d bang violently,” “maybe you’d have to kill her afterwards” (in a thread titled “Be honest, everyone here would FUCK THE SHIT out of Jill Feministe”)
“that nose ring is fucking money, rape her immediately”
“Legal liability from posting pic showing Jill fucking?” (talking about photoshopping my head onto a pornstar’s body)
“she would be a good hate fuck”
“[Duke rape accuser] or ‘Jill’: who has more semen drip of their abortion scarred, fat asses?”
But I think my favorite part is when AK47 says that the suit is frivolous and will probably be dropped, “but only after John Doe 21 is identified and humiliated on the internet and elsewhere.” Aww, poor baby — I’m playing the world’s tiniest violin for you, I really am. I know the prospect of being identified and humiliated on the internet must be just terrible for you. So I’ll offer you a compromise: Once you’re outed and your name gets attached to the various times you called people niggers and said women (with extremely common first names!) should be raped, I’ll only use your first name when I post about what should happen to you. Of course, I’ll first make a habit of using your full name on my blog so that everyone knows who you are by the time I decide your last name isn’t really necessary anymore, and I’ll post pictures of you and say where you go to school, and I’ll paint a picture of you as a disgusting and horrible human being who deserves to have something bad happen to him, but when I finally suggest that you should be punched in the face for being such a jackass, I’ll be sure to only refer to you as John, not John Doe. Therefore, you will have absolutely no reason to feel humiliated or threatened.
Sound like a plan?