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Cyberspace: New Frontier Of Civil Rights Movement

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Photo credit: Danielle Keats Citron

University of Maryland law professor Danielle Keats Citron is shown in this undated photo.

One of the first people arrested in connection with hosting a so-called revenge porn website is set to go to trial in San Diego this fall. But, legislation against the posting of nude or sexual images on the Internet is proving difficult. In fact, the whole subject of what constitutes a hate crime on the Internet and who might be responsible for allowing that conduct is very complicated.

But legal experts and law enforcement agencies are not giving up because of the firm belief that people injured by revenge and hate on the Internet are victims in the real world.

In her new book "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace," University of Maryland law professor Danielle Keats Citron argues cyberspace is the new frontier of the civil rights movement.

She says workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence were once viewed the same way cyber harassment is today — as something women brought upon themselves or something too personal to be within the bounds of legal recourse.

Meanwhile, free speech advocates worry laws to criminalize online harassment like revenge porn could go too far and have the potential of infringing on First Amendment rights.

About a dozen states, including California, have passed laws against revenge porn. A bill to expand the definition of revenge porn to include selfies is awaiting the Gov. Jerry Brown's signature.

Excerpt from "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace"

Cyber harassment involves threats of violence, privacy invasions, reputation-harming lies, calls for strangers to physically harm victims, and technological attacks. Victims’ in-boxes are inundated with threatening e-mails. Their employers receive anonymous e-mails accusing them of misdeeds. Fake online advertisements list victims’ contact information and availability for sex. Their nude photos appear on sites devoted to exacting revenge. On message boards and blogs, victims are falsely accused of having sexually transmitted infections, criminal records, and mental illnesses. Their social security numbers and medical conditions are published for all to see. Even if some abuse is taken down from a site, it quickly reappears on others. Victims’ sites are forced offline with distributed-denial-of-service attacks.

While some attackers confine abuse to networked technologies, others use all available tools to harass victims, including real-space contact. Offline harassment or stalking often includes abusive phone calls, vandalism, threatening mail, and physical assault. As the executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime Mary Lou Leary explains, “Stalkers are using very sophisticated technology . . . installing spyware on your computer so they can track all of your interactions on the Internet, your purchases, your e-mails and so forth, and using that against you, forwarding e-mails to people at your job, broadcasting your whereabouts, your purchases, your reading habits and so on, or installing GPS in your car so that you will show up at the grocery store, at your local church, wherever and there is the stalker and you can’t imagine how the stalker knew that you were going to be there.”

Why affix the cyber label to the abuse? Why not simplify matters and just call it harassment or stalking? Perpetrators engage in persistent destructive behavior, whether it occurs online, offline, or both. The cyber label adds something important, however. It captures the different ways the Internet exacerbates the injuries suffered.

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