Back in 2007, two female Yale Law School students filed a lawsuit over allegedly defamatory and threatening comments written about them on AutoAdmit.com. The stuff written went way beyond lobsters and buttcheeks, and the women said the resulting Google hits on their names did serious damage to their job prospects.
The case was near and dear to ATL readers’ hearts in its challenge to the culture of anonymous online commentary, as the YLS students sought to out their unknown assailants (including the incongruously-named and more appropriately-named AK47) through the course of litigation. We covered the various twists and turns of the case, but hadn’t heard anything since last summer.
The newest issue of Portfolio Magazine has the case on its cover. In Slimed Online, David Margolick identifies the YLS plaintiffs as Brittan Heller and Heide Iravani and explores the legal ramifications for cyber bullying.
The article is a great read, and we’d advise checking it out. We’re a big fan of the writer: Margolick covered the O.J. Simpson trial as the New York Times national legal correspondent in the 90s, and was one of Kash’s favorite journalism professors last semester.
For the lazy among you, we have chosen some highlights, including the “where are they now” grafs (hint: hello, Cleary). Find out whether job prospects were really damaged, after the jump.
Here’s a little background, for the uninitiated. Heller and Iravani were subjected to some nasty comments on AutoAdmit. If you Google their names, you’ll find:
[S]hocking remnants of what the two women have been subjected to in the past couple of years, not only when they Googled themselves but whenever a law firm or a classmate or a date — or anyone else, for that matter — checked them out. “Is Brittan Heller a lying bitch?” screams one link. “Heide Iravani deserves to be raped,” shrieks another….
They wrote, falsely, that Heller has herpes and had bribed her way into Yale — helped by a secret lesbian affair with the dean of admissions — and that Iravani has gonorrhea, is addicted to heroin, and had exchanged oral sex with Yale Law School’s dean for a passing grade in civil procedure.
If the accusation had been going down on the prof for a “P” in an easy class like “Law and __________,” that’d be a lot more defamatory. But regardless, people don’t like Google hits about drugs, STDs, or ass lobsters, for that matter, to be associated with their names.
Due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (aka Section 230), the women couldn’t sue AutoAdmit, but they could sue their tormentors:
In June 2007, they sued dozens of them in federal court in New Haven for defamation, invasion of privacy, and infliction of emotional distress. “Hiding behind pseudonyms and the smug assumption that their carefully aimed hostility can pass as merely juvenile misconduct,” the charges read, electronic wraiths trashed Heller and Iravani “for the sheer joy of destruction.” The online monikers leap off the title pages of otherwise solemn-looking court documents: Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey, The Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rollah, hitlerhitlerhitler, Dirty Nigger, Sleazy Z, stanfordtroll, lonelyvirgin, Yalels2009, ak47, et al.
Some suggest that the Ayatollah, Sleazy Z, and ak47 may have become the victims in the case.
Some of the defendants say the case amounts to an all-expenses-paid elitist temper tantrum in which two privileged women have cast an overly broad net, thus failing to differentiate between the really wicked and some of the tamer flamers, and have jeopardized careers in ways far more serious than theirs ever have been. One way or another, their suit highlights a culture and a legal system that still aren’t quite sure how freely people can or should speak online, how seriously to take what they say, and whether they can or should be sued for saying it.
Indeed, while Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge withdrew its offer to one of the defendants and AutoAdmit administrator, then-UPenn-3L Anthony Ciolli, things are looking good for Heller and Iravani professionally, with one bound for BigLaw and the other bound for Europe:
Professionally, at least, the two have emerged unscathed: When she graduates, Iravani will work at one of New York’s pickiest firms — Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton — while Heller is said to have been hired by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Ciolli is in “legal exile.” He found clerkships in Guam and now the Virgin Islands. He passed the New York state bar, but now has to get past the character-and-fitness committee. Good luck with that.
Slimed Online [Portfolio Magazine]
Earlier: ATL Coverage of AutoAdmit/Xoxohth