Legal Ethics

Yale Students Unmask Anonymous Critics; Legal Careers at Risk

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Apparent law students who posted nasty comments about female classmates on the Internet thought they were doing so anonymously.

But now two female Yale Law School students who sued over the AutoAdmit posts have identified at least some of those who made the vile comments, including posts that said women should be sexually assaulted, reports Wired. “All now face the likely publication of their names in court records—potentially marking a death sentence for the comment trolls’ budding legal careers even before the case has gone to trial.”

The case has sparked considerable debate over what the limits of free speech on the Internet should be, Wired notes in a lengthy article on the subject.

As discussed in an earlier post, female law students contend that they have been harassed and perhaps rejected for jobs over such anonymous comments. Meanwhile, at least one male law student who was originally named as a defendant in the Yale students’ suit because of his work for AutoAdmit, Anthony Ciolli, reportedly lost a job because of his association with the website, even though he apparently may not have posted objectionable comments. He has since been dropped from the suit, according to Wired.

Filed last year in federal court in New Haven, Conn., against about 40 anonymous commenters, using their screen names, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation, copyright infringement (photos of one woman allegedly were posted without permission) and invasion of privacy, the Connecticut Law Tribune reported in March. It says one of the two unnamed female plaintiffs was so stressed by the Internet attack that she eventually took a leave of absence from law school.

A copy of an amended complaint (PDF) in the case is provided by Justia.

Related coverage:

Washington Post (2007): “Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web” “Law Firms Waking Up to PR Issues Posed by Law Gossip Blogs” “Prosecutor Explains Possible Case Against JuicyCampus”

ABA Journal: “Taming the Gossipmongers”

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