Is Anonymous Gossip on Campus Really a Problem?

On cursory inspection, I’d be inclined to lump this bit of sensationalism in with the hullabaloo over cyber bullying. As the article actually notes, this sort of speech was happening already, the difference is that posting it on a web site makes it arguable easier to find and definitely makes it more persistent.

There are several key considerations to bear in mind, though. Defamation and other harms are still limits on this or any other speech online. Whereas a bathroom scrawl would effectively be resistant to efforts to identify the speaker in the presence of harm, with a web site, there is at least a reasonable possibility, setting aside privacy concerns for the moment.

The article I think gets the CDA’s interaction here slightly but critically wrong. A site operator is only shielded from liability if they act in good faith in the presence of a takedown request. The one site operator the article discusses in detail clearly does not, picking and choosing which complaints to address. Further if it turns out he took even slight action to support certain kinds of speech, he may lose his safe harbor protections and be made liable after all. The article does clarify that defamation claims against the original authors are possible if more difficult when the speech is in print.

Other than the immature attitude of the operator profiled, I don’t see how this is substantially different than any other discussion of online free speech. If there is a provable harm, there is a course of action. Otherwise, this is one of the consequences of having a right to free speech. It may be unpalatable, but it is one of the costs if we want to be able to engage in more noble and enlightened forms of controversial speech.

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