For a lucid account of the actions taken by two Yale Law School women against the website AutoAdmit, see David Margolick's "Slimed Online" in the March issue of Condé Nast Portfolio.
I always see Portfolio as a lean, elegant liberal finance mag fighting a losing battle against its stodgier counterparts. I hope it doesn't fold, as sites like Gawker have been saying it will since before its first issue came out. Full disclosure: I was an editorial intern there last summer. Important note: Portfolio's editor-in-chief is a clever Yale alumna.
Two observations from Margolick's article:
"In the 21 months since they filed suit, the women have already made some headway. But there are also accusations that the victims are becoming victimizers. Some of the defendants say the case amounts to an all-expenses-paid elitist temper tantrum in which two privileged women have cast an overly broad net, thus failing to differentiate between the really wicked and some of the tamer flamers, and have jeopardized careers in ways far more serious than theirs ever have been. One way or another, their suit highlights a culture and a legal system that still aren’t quite sure how freely people can or should speak online, how seriously to take what they say, and whether they can or should be sued for saying it."
"...In the view of Dave Hoffman, a professor at Temple University Law School who has blogged about AutoAdmit, the site offered its patrons a peculiar, vicarious kick: It allowed people who were straitlaced and risk-averse enough to want to be lawyers in the first place to become briefly, crazily irresponsible. They could spout outrageous lies, or, in the manner of Sacha Baron Cohen, invent entirely new personalities for themselves, invariably as homophobes, racists, or misogynists. Speaking a common language and flouting the same taboos, such posters became a close-knit fraternity of complete strangers who rarely even knew one another’s names. But for all their trash talk, many could even feel principled about their misbehavior; after all, they were free-speech absolutists. And they became cyber-survivalists when anyone tried to tone down or remove their posts."