Credit Where Due

Anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection has a million opportunities to express an opinion online. That doesn’t mean they have an opinion worth expressing, but more importantly, that doesn’t mean others on the internet have an obligation to either respond or treat them as kindly as they want to be treated.

This basic reality has given rise to a demand for remedy, ranging from the proposal of a criminal  anti-meanie laws in Alabama to renewed demands for the elimination of anonymity.  Couldn’t we all just be nicer toward each other?  Did no one heed Rodney King?

There is an underlying flaw in the reasoning of those who seek to create an internet where no one’s feelings are hurt.



Seattle lawyer, Collette Vogele (@vogelelaw), of the nonprofit group,  Without My Consent, providing paths to justice for victims of online harassment [argues]



…[O]nline harassment cases–such as that of blogger Kathy Sierra, who was driven offline after receiving anonymous threatening e-mails on her blog–illustrate other threats from anonymity. Requiring identities will keep things civil.


While the  Kathy Sierra situation has become the exemplar of online harrassment, it’s the outlier. Some have tried to use it to argue that this is a gender issue, giving birth to such intellectual monstrosities as Cyber Civil Rights, while others use it to prove that the internet needs to silence mean speech. For the children.

This isn’t about death threats via the internet, however, but the banality of people demanding attention and validation of their ideas.  While Kathy Sierra is a one-off matter, every day a million cries of “bully” arise online because someone, somewhere, didn’t think you were as compelling as you thought you were.

As expected, free speech advocates disagree.  No one is promoting the idea that people should be mean, but rather that speech happens as it happens, and sometimes it happens mean.  To put it otherwise, it’s better to have free speech and risk the possibility that someone’s feelings will be hurt than limit free speech, together with the ideas it contains, and preclude the expressions that might hurt someone’s feelings.

For lawyers, this is somewhat problematic. We espouse ideas for a living, and they are often in direct conflict. One of the reasons there are judges is to both keep a lid on our argument as well as decide which of competing ideas wins.  There are no judges on the internet.  Because of this, some lawyers want to argue their point ad naseum, which adds nothing to the discussion, is ultimately boring and annoying, and accomplishes nothing.  Once you’ve made your point, there’s little more to say. The other guy doesn’t agree? Do you think if you repeat yourself 27 more times, it will change?

But there has been a cry recently for civility, what some want to cast as professional courtesy, in the course of discussion.  Wouldn’t that be lovely? I think so. Now if all the morons, nutjobs and lying marketers would kindly disconect from the internet, we could have a wonderful, civil discussion.

That’s my perspective, you see. Not yours? That’s the problem. Each of us brings our own perspective to what’s worthy of discussion and what’s so blitheringly stupid or inane as to be immediately dismissed. Some are delicate teacups, and easily hurt by anything shy of complete validation. Some are pugnacious, and demand your time and energy to engage in their fight. Sometimes, a subtle point is clear without being expressed in overtly harsh tones, but more often, people don’t get it unless they’re clobbered over the head.  Nobody like being clobbered.

This was one of the problems that drove me away from blawging. Obviously, not so much of a problem as to keep me away, but a problem nonetheless.  Whether in the comments here, or by the stray twit, two demands are made: first, that I embrace the worthiness of somebody I don’t know, never heard of, by dropping everything and spending as much of my life as they demand to engage in a discussion with them on the subject of their choosing. Second, that I treat them civilly.

Whether the source of this demand is the baby lawyer who believes that his inchoate views on the practice of law is on par with that of the experienced lawyer, or the legal marketer who is deeply hurt by views that don’t show sufficient respect for the value of stringing words together in meaningless phrases, they net result is the same. They are entitled to attention.

Fail to show them the respect they demand and they get all angry and huffy.  You are mean. Tell them they’re ideas are ridiculous and you are a bully.  Ignore them and they are outraged at your lack of professional courtesy. 

One of the constant tools of the ignorant is the misuse of the Latin phrase “ad hominem.”  It doesn’t mean what they think it means.  If a point is foolish and you say so, they accuse you of the dreaded ad hominem attack. They’re wrong, but then,  Dunning-Kruger prevents their ever realizing it. Does the erroneous accusation make it your problem?  Not in my book.

If this post sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this is a subject I’ve written about a few times over the years.  My views haven’t changed, but the internet has. New people show up and raise the same old civility and bullying arguments. Why aren’t you nicer to me? Why won’t you stop your life and pay attention to me? Why won’t you agree with me?

Because credit is only given where due. Just because you have a keyboard and an internet connection doesn’t mean your opinions are worthy of anyone else’s time and attention. Just because you breath doesn’t mean you exist. At least not to anyone else. No law, no call for civility, no heart-felt plea, is going to make you suddenly fascinating to the rest of the internet, so much so that you will be loved, admired and win every argument you decide to start.

On the internet, we’re all bullies. None of us, truth be told, loves humanity that much that we become best friends with everyone who twits at us, comments on our blawg, Facebook friends us or plusses our Google. We need to grow up and get over this. 

We all pick and choose. Sometimes, we don’t choose you. And no one makes you choose me etiher. It’s not a crime.

32 comments on “Credit Where Due

  1. BL1Y

    I wonder what would happen if students began using university speech and harassment codes against their professors.

    Pace has the following rule: “Using Pace’s I.T. resources to harass, slur, embarrass or demean other individuals is explicitly prohibited.”

    I doubt it would take long to go through the Feminist Law Prof’s Blog and find a post that is meant to harass, slur, embarrass or demean someone. (I can think off the top of my head of numerous posts accusing law school journals of sexism, a very serious insult in my book.) If Bartow is using Pace IT resources when she posts, she would be in violation of that rule.

    Of course, if Pace students began filing complaints to demonstrate how overreaching the rule is, they would themselves be guilty of a violation.

  2. Frank

    There’s an entire organization dedicated to fighting stuff like this. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Links aren’t allowed but you can google it.

  3. SHG

    Yes, FIRE is a great resource, as are a number of others. And this is one of the fundamental reasons why I don’t allow links in comments. If my purpose on my blog was to promote a particular entity, I would do so. If you think it’s worthwhile to promote a particular entity, you can do it on your blog. And I happen to think very highly of FIRE.

  4. Barbara

    The FLP blog’s series of postings on “Where are the Women?” provides an important service as it points out numerous instances of the lack of gender diversity and representation within the legal profession. I am sure I do not need to explain to you why diversity matters. But if you are unsure, I suggest you go and read Ginsburg’s VMI(1996) decision to understand the benefits of gender equity or go to O’Connor’s more recent Grutter (2003) opinion for a more comprehensive understaning of the need for diversity. To say that these FLP posting’s are “meant to harass, slur,embarrass . . . ” is absurd. Actually, FLP is providing a much needed services to the legal profession. I suggest you send them a thank-you note.

  5. SHG

    This was probably the question every reader was asking, “where did BL1Y go to look up the policy?”

  6. SHG

    Besides, without FLP, we would never be sure under which rocks the misogynists were hiding, those evil haters.

  7. BL1Y

    “Hater” isn’t really a word I use, just not my style.

    I would however like to adopt an alternative definition of “hacktivist.”

  8. SHG

    You are free to use whatever lingo best suits you. I thought you kids liked “hater,” but what do I know?

  9. Barbara

    As much as I respect you Court Street and Queens Boulevard lawyers, if you want to be a part of the marketplace of ideas and join the public debate, you really must not be so thinned-skinnned, guys. Geez, everything’s an insult these days . . .

  10. SHG

    Ouch. Court Street and Queens Boulevard lawyers. That’s harsh. That’s some mean punch, you got there, BB.

  11. Greg

    You’re conflating two pretty dramatically different things. The ability to be honest with your peers and colleagues, and even to tell them their analysis or ideas sucks without necessarily dressing it up in the nicest and most polite language there is, is pretty important. Without the ability to tell someone their ideas suck and why, any conversation necessarily just turns into a big pointless back slapping exercise.

    Commenting on whether you’d want to fuck a woman blogger every time she appears in public, or doxxing and stalking her, serves absolutely no purpose and is not defensible. That isn’t “clobbering” people, that’s being a scummy worthless little nobody, and adds nothing to anything.

  12. SHG

    Indeed they are very different things. The problem is that there is no way to craft a law prohibiting the latter without impairing the former. And the latter remains the outlier, while the former is commonplace.

  13. Greg

    I had a much longer post typed out but it got ate by Chrome and have lost my spirit for typing it back out again. I’ll just say that you haven’t really been looking if you think internet crazies are the “outliers”. There has to be policy that distinguishes between posting hacked, sensitive information about people, or making threats against their person, and participating in vigorous good faith discourse.

  14. SHG

    First, that’s not what you said or what I said. Second, if you think you’ve got an answer (not a “policy,” but a hard, cold definition, a way to distinguish lawful from unlawful), give it up.  Maybe the world will thank you for being able to do what no one else has ever been able to do before you.

    If not, don’t say “there has to be” an answer.” That’s for children and the chronically unemployed.  Hint: The answer is not “I know it when I see it.”

  15. Greg

    Sure, ok. Absolute bare starting point? Internet speech being treated as on a level with in-person speech. From one of the links you posted, a blogger had people sending her pictures of her photoshopped with a noose beside her. Uttering threats, go.

    Couple that with a more robust view of breach of privacy under tort / restitution law and we’d be on our way to the Internet being a place where people talk to each other, rather than a consequence free magical wonderland where you can out and threaten people without a care

  16. SHG

    Not even close. You don’t seem to have the slightest grasp of the free speech aspects involved or the definitional problem. Now you’re just wasting my time and bandwidth.

  17. Greg

    Yeah you for sure have a pretty good grasp on the “free speech” issues of threats and posting private documents on line, and have given them a really thorough and meaningful exploration in your childish and simplistic equivalence of “uh well if you can’t photoshop someone into a noose you can’t criticize anyone guys!!”

    Good analysis, keep on postin

  18. SHG

    I’ve given you an opportunity to make an actual point. You haven’t. Sorry if that hurts your feelings. I’m sure you can find a pretty balloon somewhere else.

    Note that part of the point of this post is that the internet is filled with blithering idiots who demand their right to be heard, no matter how clueless they are, and get all upset because their brilliance isn’t recognized and validated. Sadly, Greg, that’s you.

  19. Jordan

    Greg: I think what you’re trying to say, although inarticulately, is that you feel groups like Anonymous have crossed the line. You feel they are habitual line steppers, just like Charlie Murphy felt about Rick James when he punched him in the face and said “I’m Rick James, bitch!”

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to pass a law that criminalizes habitual line stepping while not abridging freedom of speech.

    You know, free speech? My right to respond to your comment with “what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

    Which is how I felt about your post, Greg. I’d like you to know that, although I don’t want to go to jail for saying it. Or even pay a stupid fine. Because if that were the case, I’d probably keep to myself. And though you might like that, because it would keep your very important feelings from getting hurt, it would also turn the internet into place where everyone just gives each other hugs instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue.

    While we read about habitual line stepping in the media because it’s newsworthy (and sometimes pretty goddamn funny), it’s also not that common. Anonymous is “not your personal army” and typically their targets had to do something to deserve it.

    When it gets out of hand, it’s also usually illegal under a bunch of laws already on the books. (When in doubt – charge with disorderly conduct and defiant trespass.) These types of stupid laws risk turning any unpleasant comments into a crime. And that sucks, despite the outliers.

    Do innocent people get wrapped up in the mix sometimes? Sure, just like Kathy Sierra, who seems perfectly lovely. However, often innocent pedestrians are killed by drunk drivers.

    But that’s no reason to pass a law against driving. Because I need to get to work.

    And just like I need to get to work, I also need to tell you that you’re stupid when you say stupid stuff.

    And I have a right to do that.

  20. Greg

    Lmao literally being called a child and inarticulate by someone who apparently formulates their thinking in terms of Adam Sandler and Dave Chappelle. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  21. Greg

    Sad reality is it’s more complex than you’ve portrayed in your little 1000 word blog post, and there’s competing interests more nuanced than FREE SPEECH GOOD CENSORSHIP BAD >:(

    There’s competing interests involved, and you’re only arguing that there shouldn’t be a rearticulation or examination of how online media have changed how we interact with each other, and how the law should adapt, because you’re afraid it will encroach on your little sphere.

    I really enjoy the irony of a guy who bitches constantly about all the spam bots who infest his wall trying to shill things and spread misinformation complaining about a regulation of online speech. I can’t imagine how you’d react if they were releasing personal information about you, talking about your personal appearance, professional competency, threatening you in real life, or otherwise “speaking” in ways that would be tortious or criminal in any other context.

    You’re not interested in all that, you just wanna mash words into your keyboard, and that’s as far as the analysis goes.

    Also I really enjoy the fact that my comments are being screened for their content now that I’m posting something contrary to your posts. Free speech until it’s speech that you disagree with, I understand lil SHG-san.

  22. SHG

    Your comments are now being moderated because they waste my bandwidth and contribute nothing to the discussion. This is why your other comment hasn’t been posted. Whether that pleases you doesn’t matter. If you want to write, start a blog. You have no right to make people here stupider to salvage your dignity on my dime.

    Edit: I’ve changed my mind and posted your other comment. In the meantime, you remain moderated, but you’ve been given enormous lattitude in this comment thread and came up empty. Write all you want. Just not here. If you come up with something worth post, it will be posted. If you post more nonsense like “lil SHG-san,” then do it on your own dime or find some nutjob blog that appreciates your wisdom.

  23. SHG

    I had initially decided to toss this comment, as it was devoid of substance and an attempt at a personal attack without having the balls to include a full name. But upon reflection, I decided it was really pretty funny, so I posted it anyway.

    And I enjoy references to pop culture as much as the next guy. Maybe even more.

  24. Jordan

    Greg, don’t listen to Scott. I, for one, appreciate the frothy, scintillating mix of sheer stupidity and ironic hypocrisy that your comments have added to this fine dark morning.

    Your comments are not just regular, run of the mill stupid. No, it’s like you wanted to showcase just how ignorant you can be for everyone. Putting on such a sad, helpless display of ineptitude takes a certain kind of talent.

    Just keep being awesome, bro!

  25. SHG

    That’s not nice. If anybody is going to be mean around here, it’s me. Don’t make me have to spank you.

  26. N Gertner

    There is entirely too much testosterone at this blog. In any event, stop responding to Greg – he is clearly one of “Them” . . . lol

  27. Jess

    There is inherent risk if you have a blog or are a journalist. If it’s a blog, then you are under no obligation to allow someone who violates your rules of conduct to post. If they send threats to a private email account then (1) delete the private email account, (2) if the threats appear credible, file a police report – if it escalates then a restraining order. Censorship is NEVER the answer. And Greg, the whole “free speech good, censorship bad” still holds up. It held up when the First Amendment was drafted and it still holds up today. Just because the internet has changed the way we communicate, It doesn’t require that law adapt to it, it should require that we not allow censorious asshats as yourself to dilute the original intent of that law because someone doesn’t want their widdle feelings hurt. If someone is under serious threat there are existing laws to address that.

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