Cybermobs, Civil Conspiracy, and Tort Liability

By Hua, Winhkong | Fordham Urban Law Journal, August 2017 | Go to article overview

Cybermobs, Civil Conspiracy, and Tort Liability


Hua, Winhkong, Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction                                               1218 I. Background of Internet Harassment and Civil Conspiracy  1221  A. Internet Harassment                                    1221  B. Civil Litigation and its Internet Inadequacies         1229   1. Lack of Defendants                                    1230   2. Ease of Access and Anonymity                          1236   3. Jurisdictional Issues                                 1240  C. Civil Conspiracy and its Features Adapted              1241 II. The Problem of Cybermobs and Civil Conspiracy as a     Remedy                                                 1245  A. Cybermobs                                              1245  B. Civil Conspiracy, Copyright Law, and Permissive     Joinder                                                1248  C. Civil Conspiracy and Cybermobs                         1251 III. AutoAdmit and Civil Conspiracy in Practice            1255  A. Civil Conspiracy Elements Present                      1257   1. Group of Two or More                                  1257   2. Unlawful Objective/Lawful Objective by Unlawful      Means                                                 1258   3. Agreement                                             1258   4. An Unlawful Act Committed to Further the      Agreement                                             1261   5. Harm that Was Proximately Caused by Conspiracy        1262  B. Possible Inadequacies of Cybermob Civil Conspiracy     1263 Conclusion                                                 1264 

INTRODUCTION

Cities are centers of culture, learning, and debate. These urban spaces provide a stage upon which discordant voices are brought together, where communities may form, and where ideas can clash. (1) The Internet is the new urban, where dissident voices can find refuge and where the world grows closer. (2) But even as the Internet draws people closer together and allows debate to flourish, the Internet creates new ways for people to harass and harm others. (3) So as exists in cities, structures must be created to safeguard individuals while maintaining the diversity and vibrancy that makes the space desirable.

The Internet allows individuals to be hurt in ways that simply did not previously exist. Several examples demonstrate the new types of harms that have become available when people use the Internet as a tool of harassment: from false accusations, gender discrimination, and inexplicable ire, to the scorning of people who tread past certain social norms. After the Boston Marathon Bombing, Sunil Tripathi was falsely accused on Reddit of being the Boston Bomber; his family received hundreds of threatening and anti-Islamic phone calls. (4) Reddit users from around the world trawled through news articles, images, and social media only to misidentify Mr. Tripathi, who had committed suicide days before the Bombing. (5) Steven Rudderham received death threats and hateful comments after accusations that he was a pedophile spread through Facebook; he committed suicide soon after. (6) After posting feminist critiques of video games, Anita Sarkeesian cancelled speaking engagements because of bomb threats, had her website shut down by hackers numerous times, was accused of being a fraud and a liar, and received death and rape threats which included her address and the names of her family members. (7) Jessica Leonhardt was eleven when she faced the ire of a cybermob; in just a few hours after someone posted one of her videos on 4chan, (8) her real name, phone number, real address, and social networking accounts circulated the Internet; harassers spammed her networking accounts, prank-called her home, and threatened her life. (9) As Leonhardt's mother said, "We've had many, many death threats. We're afraid to leave the house. We're afraid to go to bed. We're sleeping in shifts, my husband and I am." (10) Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, received a staggeringly large amount of online abuse that quickly turned into harassment as Internet users shared his address, his phone number, uncovered information about his employees and his patients, and even vandalized his home. …

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