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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Speaking of Cyber-Cesspools...

...Autoadmit and the two women harassed by the anonymous sociopaths and misogynists that populate the site are discussed in a new article by a well-known journalist, David Margolick.  There are a number of interesting bits of information in the article that were new to me:

*The article identifies a number of the heretofore pseudonymous defendants.  One is Kirk Cheney, a Yale law student, who participated in the harassment of one of the women, though was hardly one of the more vicious participants.  "Pauliewalnuts," one of the most extreme misogynists and sociopaths on Autoadmit, turns out to be Douglas Phillibaum, a graduate of Seton Hall (unclear, though, whether he is a graduate of the law school there, or just undergrad).

*Matthew Ryan, an undergraduate at the University of Texas whose contributions to the "marketplace of ideas" we noted previously, is reported to have told Mr. Margolick that he is "giddy over [the prospect of] meeting my cheerful, big-titted accuser in court."  Apparently his parents' homeowners insurance policy is covering his defense.  Equally apparently, it appears defense counsel is having some trouble advising Mr. Ryan when to keep quiet.  As Professor Lemley, counsel for the plaintiffs, wryly remarks, "When we get to trial, the only question is going to be the amount of damages."

*Anthony Ciolli, the Penn Law graduate and former administrator of Autoadmit, who lost a job after his role in administering and even defending the cesspool became known to his law firm, has held clerkships in Guam and the Virgin Islands, and is now trying to be admitted to the New York Bar, where, unsurprisingly, he is reported to be meeting a challenge from the state bar's character and fitness committee. 

*The most amazing quote comes from Matt Zimmerman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is allegedly an attorney; he is quoted as saying the plaintiffs' claims are "extraordinarily, extraordinarily weak."   Actually, most of them are obvious winners, which is why the court has repeatedly issued subpoenas to identify anonymous posters (which the court would not do absent a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits) and why most of the identified defendants have already settled and paid damages.

A couple of items in the story are, I think, a bit misleading:

*Mr. Margolick apparently accepted at face value the claim that "Cohen controlled the message boards," which has been Mr. Ciolli's standard refrain since his involvement with the site started to cause him professional problems.  Is it true?  How do we explain Mr. Ciolli's ability to get offensive threads removed when it suited him?  It would have been interesting to hear more about this.

*Mr. Margolick references my March 2005 posting about Autoadmit, though 'tis a shame he didn't quote the line about Jews that I quoted which also left him quite appalled--it would have given a better sense for why anyone mildly sane would have been disgusted upon discovering Autoadmit.

*Autoadmit was, at one time, a "popular forum for law students," but that is no more:  it is now quite clearly dominated for actual law school discussion by "Top Law Schools" and "Law School Discussion," among others--both sites that have grown-up moderation.  And contrary to the impression the article leaves, Autoadmit remains overwhelmingly a cesspool of infantile morons, anonymous sociopaths, and misogynistic and racist freaks.  Here are some stats I collected last March (for a forthcoming article about free speech and Cyber-cesspools), three years to the date after my original posting about the board; this concerns only the section of the site that calls itself "school-related":  there were not quite 200 threads here, of which maybe 10% were actually related to law school and the practice of law.  Many were about current events, some enlightened soul felt the need to create two dozen threads using the word “nigger,” while the rest are well-represented by this modest sampling of subject lines like "fantasizes about making you cry with the girth of my cock" and "i cum hard each time my cunt shits out a dead baby" and "Jew Spitzer should be hung for making a poor ho eat his ass."  All this disturbed and misogynistic “trash talk” was in the section of the Autoadmit site that was supposed to be “school related”!  If one were to add in the “off topic” threads (which comprise the vast majority of the site's content), the law school related chat on this particular Cyber-Cesspool drops to perhaps 2-3% of the total. 

UPDATE:   A colleague elsewhere writes:  "I read the article on Ciolli et al that you linked to on our website.  It really is amazing that Ciolli and some of the posters are now playing the 'poor me' card.  What would the AutoAdmit boards say about anybody other than themselves whining like that?"  Indeed.

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