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Monday, August 24, 2009

'Skank' Blogger v. Google and "The Violence Against Women Act"

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Rosemary Port is the blogger (and fashion model student) who for some reason believed it was ok to call fashion model Liskula Cohen a "psychotic, lying, whoring...Skank," under the blog post title, "Skanks of NYC" and from under the cover of a name not her own. On Wednesday August 19th, a U.S. Federal Judge ordered Google to identify the name of the person who we now know as Ms. Port.

Rosemary Port

But for some weird reason I can only attribute to a lawyer with a super large ego, Rosemary Port thinks she can win a lawsuit against Google for $15 million.

No way.

And it's not because she's suing Google; it's because in using her blog to make malicious fun of Cohen, Rosemary Port unknowingly violated a provision of "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act" that was passed in 2006.

Liskula Cohen 

The little-talked-about law has three sections that specifically concern cyberstalking Sections 113 (Preventing Cyberstalking), Section 114, and Section 2261 A . This is what is posted at GovTrak.com for the purpose of this discussion. The entire bill section reads in summary:

Section 113. Preventing Cyberstalking ... Whoever ... utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet ... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person ... who receives the communications ... shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

The punishment for this is not less than a year in jail and the charges can be brought forth by the Department of Justice. This, then, is the law Ms. Port has ran up against. Given what she was doing against Ms. Cohen, Rosemary Port is in clear violation of this law and could see jail time if Ms. Cohen or the Department of Justice, or for that matter Google, pressed the issue.

I really think Ms. Port's lawyer is giving her some terrible counsel.

Cyberstalking is not free speech

Some are under the impression that the kind of blogging Port was doing is free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. Classic free speech is standing on a corner and talking about something using your mouth to blast your voice into public airspace.

A blog is not really public to start with: everything from the web page to the internet service provider is privately owned, so they can control the content that gets out there - it's not the place for free expression. I think what's happened is that the relative ease of blogging has seduced some into thinking that they can write whatever they want, whenever they want, thus believing they have the right to free speech.  Not so.

People are jailed for cyberstalking

Something else Ms. Port must consider is the timing of her actions could not have been worse.  They not only come after 2006 and the laws against cyberstalking, but at a time when there's a war against the act and the people who do it.  In England, a teenager by the name of Keeley Houghton is facing three months in the juvenile detention system for harassing and threatening Emily Moore, eventually writing that she was going to kill her.

And law enforcement has been active in America, too.  In Southwest Florida in 2008 a teenager was arrested for the act.  In Louisiana a pastor recently turned himself in after an arrest for cyberstalking.  In that case, he was accused of "sending several anonymous, sexually-explicit e-mail messages" to a 21-year old woman who attended his church. 

And more and more states and cities are installing their own versions of the law, and police departments are adding cyber crime units, so the infrastructure to stop this behavior is being created.  It's about time. 

I'm cyberstalked on a daily basis, as I have several blogs and video channels (10 channels with an average of 200 videos on each one, and over 600 on YouTube)  and am on SFGate.com and the Examiner and CNN's iReport.  I get racist emails, and comments that lie about me, insult me, or threaten me every day. 

To say I'm tired of it is an understatement but I'm not going away.  In 2008 I was twice the subject of a death message (and got such a comment on SFGate.com this year), leading me to make this video:

And vloggers like MelissaJenn (who I referred to in my video) have been treated terribly, with people stalking her and taking photos not just of her but of her dwelling then sending the photo to her writing "I know where you live."  That's sick.  Just plain ill.  She stopped making vlogs for a few months after that, then came back to her normal schedule of vlogging.  But the bottom line is we're tired of this and fighting back. 

Blogs, news outlets and other online information outlets must beware of this war, because it they're not policing their sites, they too could be the focus of a huge lawsuit by someone who's life was threatened or just plain made to suffer emotionally.  It's not right.  

And now we have the legal tools to use, and will do so. 

Rosemark Port should appologize to Liskula Cohen rather than going through a legal path that will only do her more harm than good.   Port's not the victim here; she's her own worst enemy.  She's not going to beat Google and moreover, she's not going to overturn that provision of  "The Violence Against Women Act".   Ironic that a woman would run up against that law, eh?

Still, I think it's time for some healthy and civil talk about where we go from here.  I don't think teenagers should be jailed for these acts, and I do believe that more training is needed to save people, well, from themselves.   Stay tuned.

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