Online anonymity

People always ask the Above the Law editors, “What kinds of people leave such horrible comments on your website?” And we always say, “Regular people, the ones you work with or socialize with.”

Most internet commenters are regular people who, under the Invisibility Cloak of cyberspace, feel free to say whatever disgusting/ridiculous/illogical thing that pops into their heads.

Lest anyone think the phenomenon is unique to our website, please think again. For better or worse, trolling is an inevitable part of online media. Most of the time, it’s best to just ignore it. Once a while, however, anonymous online commenting may signify something larger and more pernicious.

Case in point: our inbox was flooded over the weekend with the emerging scandal of a prosecommenter (yeah, you read that right) in New Orleans. This is what happens when a federal prosecutor takes his case to the interwebs instead of the court. Bad times…

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Well, last Friday was interesting. When I decided to close the comments for last week’s installment of Moonlighting, Lat responded, “I’m glad at least someone is willing to try deactivation.” As expected, undeterred from the fact that they couldn’t comment directly on my post, the usual group of ATL commenters uniformly hijacked Kashmir Hill’s “revenge porn” post which followed mine on ATL to provide me with their usual thoughtful and highly encouraging feedback.

Later, an anonymous 2L tweeted as follows: And @susanmoon has the dubious distinction of being the first @atlblog writer to close off comments. When I joked to the 2L that my feelings get hurt every week, the 2L (taking me seriously, I presume) told me that instead of hiding, I should “rise above it” because even a SCOTUS justice would get flamed on ATL. This invited Brian Tannebaum (an ATL small-firm columnist) and some others to rush to my defense. What ensued was a flurry of debate on Twitter — infused with an abundance of insults — mainly between Brian and the 2L. I’m actually not quite sure why Brian got so involved, as I’m not even sure he likes me (that’s the real reason I cry every week). I think he just likes to pick on poor souls every once in a while (read: several times a day) for his own sadistic pleasure.

In any case, in addition to the entertainment value that the Brian v. 2L debates offered on Twitterverse Legal last weekend, there were definitely some interesting points made on both sides about the value of anonymous feedback….

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Sometimes silence is golden.

The executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson — who once worked as a legal journalist, for Steve Brill at the American Lawyer — recently issued A Note to Our Readers About Comments, in which she explained various changes to the Times’s commenting system. We thought we’d follow in the Gray Lady’s footsteps and announce a tweak of our own to the Above the Law comments.

Comments and online anonymity are hot topics right now, both here and abroad (e.g., India). Writer Katie Roiphe just mused about the angry anonymous commenter. Privacy lawyer Christopher Wolf recently argued, in the New York Times, that websites should “consider requiring either the use of real names (or registration with the online service) in circumstances, such as the comments section for news articles, where the benefits of anonymous posting are outweighed by the need for greater online civility.” Many Times readers disagreed, defending the value and importance of anonymous speech online.

In light of these conflicting concerns — civility, privacy, free expression — let’s turn our attention to the ATL comments….

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The 'scamblogging' law professor has revealed himself.

Earlier this month, we wrote about an anonymous law professor — a tenured professor, at a top-tier school — essentially joining the ranks of the law school scambloggers. Writing over at a site entitled Inside the Law School Scam, under the pseudonym LawProf, the author offered a harsh indictment of legal education, purportedly from within the ivory tower.

I believed that the author was who he said he was, but others did not. Professor Ann Althouse, for example, opined that the blogger was a student, “uncharitably projecting thoughts onto [a] professor” (who talked about how little he, and his colleagues, prepared for teaching). Professor Althouse explained that she thought was student-written, “because it had some bad writing and simplistic thinking.”

Well, as it turns out, LawProf is an actual tenured law professor, at a top 50 law school. Who is he, and where does he teach?

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* And finally, a law student sues a law school for its allegedly misleading post-graduate employment information. [Law School Transparency]

* A “leading business lawyer in Germany,” reportedly a partner at Linklaters, allegedly attempts to evade paying taxes on his new lederhosen. Now is the time on Spockets when we dance. [Roll on Friday]

* Score one for anonymous emails! [Law & Technology]

Paul Simon

* DSK gears up to blame the victim. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Female lawyers arguing over women having children and taking maternity leave. I think I’m going to read this post, go with my boys to see The Hangover 2, and then hit up Rick’s. [Vault]

* First-time Tennessee bar exam takers who graduated from the University of Memphis Law School passed the bar. All of them. As Successful Troll might say, congratulations to all of the soon-to-be-employed Memphis Law grads! [The Commercial Appeal]

* A patent attorney from Drinker Biddle helps Paul Simon out with a song. [Reliable Source / Washington Post]

* Deporting immigrant same-sex partners is just cruel. [In The Arena / CNN]

A liveblog of an interesting panel at the 2010 National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society, after the jump.

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Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold (aka Lawmiss?)

When weighing in on cases, it’s best for judges to limit their opinions to their Opinions. They’ve been warned before to be careful on Facebook and on blogs they author. But the case of Ohio judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, shows they should exercise caution with anonymous online commentary as well.

An online commenter named “lawmiss” registered on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website with Judge Saffold’s AOL e-mail address in 2007. Since then, Lawmiss has had some critical things to say on articles about cases that came before Judge Saffold.

In one, Lawmiss threw one of the attorneys defending a bus driver in a vehicular homicide case… well, under the bus. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Rufus Sims did a disservice to his client,” the Nov. 21, 2009, post reads. “If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth. What makes him think that is [sic] he insults and acts like buffon [sic] that it will cause the judge to think and see it his way. There are so many lawyers that could’ve done a much better job. This was not a tough case, folks. [The bus driver] should’ve hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around did not do it.”

Sims is now appearing before Judge Saffold defending, in the words of one of our tipsters, “the most notorious serial killer in Cleveland history,” Anthony Sowell. Sims is not pleased to see this evidence of possible bias against him.

When accused by the Dealer of making these comments, Judge Saffold threw her daughter under the bus. Sydney Saffold, 23, “a one-time law student” claims she made the comments associated with her mom’s account.

Judge’s children might lie, but a computer’s browser activity history doesn’t…

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