Brittan Heller and Heide Iravani are awesome.

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Brittan and Heide are two women, heavily victimized by AutoAdmit, who have been willing to stand and fight. An article about the AutoAdmit litigation called “Slimed Online” can be found here at Here is an excerpt:

Autoadmit, like innumerable other sites catering to a particular profession or community, is comparatively obscure. What makes it matter to the world at large is Google, which collects whatever AutoAdmit and millions of other websites make available and then spews the results out around the planet. A Google search is the new universal background check and is unfettered, unfiltered, and nearly impossible to appeal. But not to manipulate. To ensure that their calumnies topped the Google cache, AutoAdmit posters filed multiple slurs about both women:a practice known as Google bombing:to crowd out or shove down anything else.

Were Google and AutoAdmit newspapers or television stations, Heller and Iravani would have had a ready remedy: They could sue. Someone printing or airing falsehoods or statements likely to defame or cause extreme emotional distress couldn’t then simply walk away. But different rules apply to internet intermediaries: Websites like Google and AutoAdmit merely deliver content rather than producing it themselves. Just over a decade ago, seeking to encourage the free flow of information on the internet and itself under pressure from telecommunications companies, Congress passed legislation stating that such websites could not be sued for carrying defamatory material. The measure in question is Section 230(c) of what has surely become one of the most striking misnomers on the books: the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

As a result, two entirely different brands of discourse have developed. In the traditional media, things remain reasonably decorous. But online the promise of anonymity, though far flimsier than most suspect, unlocks something ugly and menacing in ostensibly normal people.

Here’s some of what the article reports happened to Heller:

The attacks against Brittan Heller began in the summer of 2005, after her graduation from Stanford.”Stupid Bitch to Attend Yale Law,”declared STANFORDtroll.”She will be part of the class of ’08, and her name is Brittan Heller.”The usual cyber-mauling ensued.”I’ll force myself on her, most definitely,”promised neoprag, who added,”I think I will sodomize her. Repeatedly.”To which stanfordtroll replied,”If you go after that, you’ll be in for a suprise [sic].”Then someone calling himself :D chimed in,”Just don’t fuck her, she has herpes.”

Seeking to have the inflammatory thread taken down, Heller turned to Google:in vain. Its policy is clearly stated on its website:”Google does not remove allegedly defamatory material from our search results. You will need to work directly with the webmaster of the page in question.”So, using a mix of humor, flattery, and steel, Heller contacted AutoAdmit.”While sometimes I can be stupid and sometimes I can be a bitch, I can only aspire to be both at once…since I’m just terrible at multitasking,”she joked in an email message to Cohen and Ciolli, adding,”I would like to get this settled quickly and not have to involve any outside legal authorities.”The implied threat irked Cohen, who by law didn’t have to do anything.”Sounds like a nut,”he wrote to Ciolli. Two days later, after hearing nothing, Heller wrote again.”Please remove the post, and if you’re willing, allow me to confront my slanderer,”she pleaded.

Again, she got no reply.

Here is some of what the article reports happened to Iravani:

Like Heller, Iravani had never heard of AutoAdmit. But she soon learned that she had been targeted and that it had popped up on Google. Iravani complained to the Yale administration but found little sympathy; one top administrator told her to tough it out and learn how to take criticism. (A spokeswoman for the school says,”We did everything in our power to assist them.”) But another Yale official, who knew that Heller … suggested Iravani contact her. Though they hadn’t known each other before (and still aren’t close), the two soon joined forces.

Iravani turned next to AutoAdmit. She complained that she couldn’t concentrate on her work, was now embarrassed to be seen in public, and had begun therapy.”I can’t tell you how much I would appreciate it if you would simply deactivate this thread and make my life go back to normal,”she pleaded in an email.”I am a nice person and don’t deserve this humiliation.”This time, Ciolli, who’d grown impatient with such complaints, snapped back in an AutoAdmit post, writing,”Do not contact me…to delete a thread, especially if I have no idea who you are and have never spoken to you in my entire life.”If he kept receiving similar requests, he warned, he would just post them all on the message board for everyone to see. The discussion about Iravani then metastasized, appearing on a website (which Cohen and Ciolli were not directly involved with) that linked to AutoAdmit called T14Talent. Without her knowledge, Iravani had been entered in a contest to name the”most appealing women”in the top 14 law schools in the country.

Read the whole thing here.

–Ann Bartow

This entry was posted in Feminism and Law, Feminism and Technology, Sexism in the Media, Sociolinguistics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Brittan Heller and Heide Iravani are awesome.

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