Last week, my alma mater, New York Law School, opened up the only pro bono law school clinic providing free counsel to victims of cyberharassment. The Tyler Clementi Institute for Internet Safety at New York Law School is named after the young New Jersey man who committed suicide after his college roommate shared surreptitiously recorded videos of Tyler having intimate sessions with another man. The Institute is a great move to try and deal with the growing number of complaints in this area and hopefully it will also help set parameters between permissible, legal, free speech and commentary and that conduct which crosses the line into stalking, defamation and invasion of privacy.
For years, folks have figured out how to use gaps in existing law to shame, harass, and intimidate others – mostly through the posting of private, intimate photos and videos without the other person’s consent. While society has tabbed this ugly demeaning practice “Revenge Porn” the phrase CyberHarassment is much more fitting. First of all because this is not “Porn” – because porn is consensual and Second of all this is not “Revenge” because revenge implies the target has done something to deserve revenge being extracted upon them.
Currently only 26 states have some form of law specifically passed to target CyberHarassment and most of those have only come on line in the last year or two. Many of those laws are still likely to be found to be overbroad or applied in an overbroad manner leaving targets without an easy statutory tool to fight the harasser. For far too long, people who had been victimized this way by others, had no law to turn to. Holly Jacobs, who was herself a victim of this problem, founded the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
which has a helpline to assist people around the country facing this issue. She also founded endrevengeporn.com, a website devoted to the topic which provides information and access to pro bono attorneys around the country. I have been listed on the site nearly since its inception and have helped dozens of victims over the years end the harassment and talked to and counseled even dozens more who just needed advice.
But that’s simply not enough for two reasons (1) Its hard for private lawyers to donate all the pro bono time necessary to this issue. So this new clinic will hopefully allow law students and clinic lawyers to fill the void in helping people understand what their rights are and what they can do to stop the harassing conduct; (2) Often those seeking help are asking for help in an area where help can’t be provided: just because someone posts something about you that is negative or hurts your feelings or outright insults you, that is not CyberHarassment – it needs to be more pervasive so as to constitute a pattern of conduct meant to harm you; or be defamatory; or been the result of an invasion of privacy. So I also hope the Institute will put forth seminars and informational pieces educating the public about the issue.
I admire New York Law School for taking this on. Its a great opportunity for those law students and recent grads who can’t find work in this current marketplace to be able to get some experience and help folks in need. Under the guidance of Professor Ari Waldman, I hope that the Institute will succeed in providing a place for CyberHarrasment victims to get counsel, advice and assistance; because its housed in a law school, I hope that it will also help clarify and define what is protected speech versus that which constitutes CyberHarassment.
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