Danielle Keats Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace makes for uncomfortable but important reading for lawyers in the 21st century.
With an excellent understanding of how the Internet functions and how people engage with it, Citron is placed well to dissect increasingly common (and continuously under-reported) forms of online stalking, harassment and bullying.
From the first page, Citron sets out harrowing, real-life examples of how cyber-crime has been used to ruin people’s lives and careers – before thoroughly breaking down the legal framework which allows for those responsible to be brought to justice through the courts and recommending a series of legal reforms to create even tougher laws.
Writing from an American perspective, she grapples with free speech defences of online harassment, spending a chapter writing on the need to balance civil rights with free speech values.
But she rejects appeals for Internet users to grow “thick skin” in favour of using the criminal justice system to make the Internet a safer and more inclusive place, particularly for women, who are disproportionately made the victims of hate crimes in cyberspace.
It is not an easy read. Many of the examples given are dark, disturbing and not all have happy endings. But as the world changes and the Internet – especially social media – occupies a larger-than-ever part of our lives, it is important to understand the extent of the problem at hand.
Instead of joining some politicians and parts of the media in dismissing online harassment as trivial or less significant than “real life” crimes, Citron identifies cyber-crime as a new frontier in civil rights law and expertly carries out the unenviable task of articulating that in writing.
Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. By Danielle Keats Citron. Published by Harvard University Press. Paperback £14.95, 352pp.