The University of Denver Law Review today presented a Syposium on "Cyber Civil Rights: New Challenges for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Our Networked Age." Hogan & Hartson partner (and privacy group co-chair) Christopher Wolf delivered remarks on "Accountability for Online Hate Speech: What Are The Lessons From ‘Unmasking’ Laws?”
Chris observed that online anonymity and the privacy it shields can be used as a sword to injure the human dignity of others who are victimized by hate speech. It also can be used to mislead and indoctrinate young people.
The Internet, in large part because of the shield of online anonymity, has become the medium through which hate groups plot and promote real-world violence, recruit and indoctrinate like-minded haters, mislead and distort information for those – like students – who innocently link to their content. There are, of course, notorious hate mongers who use their real identities and revel in the limelight. But the vast majority of hate spewed online is done so anonymously. The Internet content of hate mongers – words, videos, music, and social network postings – serve to offend the human dignity of the intended victims, minorities and those who hate groups identify as “the other”.
Chris went on point out the problem of cyberbullying and hate-filled comments appended to mainstream news articles online. After reviewing the legal regimes used to "unmask" online copyright infringers, those who commit defamation online and KKK members while marching in groups, Chris acknolwedges the First Amendment limitations on legal regulation of anonymous speech online and proposes a self-regulatory regime by online companies to address hate speech online. A copy of his full remarks can be found here.