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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Sex, lies and broadband”

    “”Who will Caitlin Hall (prestigious bitch) fuck first at Yale Law?””

    It seems the people, oddly enough, really want to know. Because despite four years of writing columns and editorials at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, and a spate of other publications, all available online, a year ago that question rocketed to the top of the list of results for a Google search of my name, and it hasn’t budged.

    Perhaps a little background is in order. In November 2005, I was a recent graduate of the UA happily outstaying my welcome in the Wildcat newsroom. I’d committed to attending Yale University and decided to spend some of my plentiful free time getting to know my future classmates, so I started poking around on a few of the many online discussion boards for pre-law and law students.

    I posted biographical information on LawSchoolNumbers.com, a Web site that tracks success (and failure) in the admissions process using GPAs, LSAT scores and “”soft factors.”” I didn’t give my name, but I did say that I’d been editor in chief of the Wildcat. That was enough for someone on AutoAdmit.com to start a thread dissecting my resume, on which my name and pictures appeared. Someone e-mailed me a link, I went online to respond, and hilarity ensued.

    Now a search for “”Caitlin Hall”” yields dozens of results about my hideously malformed face, a bevy of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases, and unprintable sex acts. The “”Google-bombing”” campaign was summed up by one poster’s plea: “”We need more Caitlin Hall defamation threads.”” Like it or not, I was, and still am, out there: The topic has been broached with a sheepish smile by friends, and with a gracious wink by employers.

    In short, I’m no stranger to the ways in which “”virtual”” harms can be anything but. Still, when The Washington Post ran a front-page story last month on AutoAdmit’s maltreatment of two of my classmates (and its racist, sexist, homophobic and religiously bigoted content in general), and the law school commnity began discussing ways to purge the offensive material, I grudgingly urged restraint. The Web today constitutes a treacherous landscape for the marginally employable, psychologically erratic college student. But don’t panic: This, too, shall pass.

    We can’t stop malice on the Internet. Malice finds a way. We can try to shore up the banks of the “”real world”” with legal and digital sandbags, but online hate speech has the slow inevitability of a tsunami. When the avenues of publication and distribution are limitless, it becomes exceedingly difficult to control people’s behavior (a concept our Constitution’s framers not only accepted, but banked on).

    Nor can we stop college students on the Internet.

    Advisers invariably warn that the only way to keep unsavory information from bleeding into the professional world is to decline to put it on the Internet in the first place. To a college student, that solution has all the persuasive power of telling a high schooler the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy is to forego sex.

    But even if we can’t stop the lambs and we can’t stop the wolves, we can still stop the slaughter. The best way to do that, counterintuitively, is to overwhelm the market with bad information by allowing online verbal abuse to run unchecked, so that all such speech becomes valueless, unreliable and irrelevant. That’s the best solution in that it’s the most efficient, because it enlists the boundless energy of the depraved in their own undoing. Moreover, it’s the only way to bypass the question of how to keep employers from using social software to inform hiring decisions (the answer, by the way, is that we can’t).

    To state the obvious, for the first generation to be libeled on the Internet, this solution sucks. It’s no treat overhearing a stranger say he read you “”fucked your way into Yale.”” It’s infinitely more unpleasant knowing your friends, parents and boss have all read the same thing. But that’s the way it has to be, in the fatalistic sense that that’s the way it’s going to be. All we can control is how quickly it’s over. And that, despite what some will say, is a real choice.

    Caitlin Hall is a UA alumna and former Wildcat editor in chief. She is currently a first-year law student at Yale Law School.

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