[Marxism] St. Lawrence University sues to identify leftwing blog critics
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 13 08:30:10 MDT 2005
Cloaked in Cyberspace
St. Lawrence University is trying to force disclosure of the names of
bloggers behind a site they say ridicules and harasses students and faculty
The blog Take Back Our Campus!, which says it is dedicated to fighting the
right-wing assault on the university, posts often raging criticisms of
administrative policy and of students in conservative groups, and other
faculty members and students they consider conservative.
The university filed a lawsuit in federal court in January alleging that
the blog unlawfully used, and altered, copyrighted photographs. One picture
of President Daniel Sullivan, gleaned from the universitys Web site, was
spruced up with a bottle of gin and two bare-breasted women. The pictures
have been removed, but the conflict continues.
What St. Lawrence really wants is the identity of the bloggers, who are
called John Doe"s in the suit. There are eight site contributors, but only
the picture posters are named - using their pseudonyms - in the suit.
They call themselves Christian Evangelist and collars down. On May 6,
the college asked the court to force Time Warner Cable, whose service was
used to post to the site, to hand over information that would identify the
St. Lawrence administrators said they are less concerned by the criticism
of themselves than by the anonymous attacks on individuals, especially
students. One posting that really bothered them, according to
administrators, was a tally of how many times a student mentioned on the
blog had been seen crying in public, presumably due to its content. Another
post included a faculty members match.com profile and pictures (one in
shirt and tie, one shirtless) highlighting the fact that the professor said
he was not interested in dating black or Asian people.
Its absolutely very cowardly, said Macreena Doyle, a university
spokeswoman, who pointed out that St. Lawrence administrators have been
criticized before but chosen not to fight back. I can see the need to
protect whistle-blowers, but to just take shots at students, and not have
the guts to ID yourself, I dont see a defense for that. If these were
posters attacking students on campus, we would take action.
Doyle said that the bloggers care only about their own anonymity and that
of their allies. In one apparent spoof article about a deans al-Qaeda
ties, promisebreaker writes: When questioned, a spokesperson from the
Deans [sic] Office, who requested to remain anonymous (Kathryn McCaffrey,
director of the office of Co-Curricular Education and Programs), denied
In January, St. Lawrence blocked access to Take Back Our Campus from
computers on the campus network. But the blog used tactics like sending
content via e-email. And, naturally, the bloggers documented what they saw
as their fight for free speech under snappy, cyber-revolutionary headlines:
Book Burning Enters the Digital Age.
Many of the sites posts, of which St. Lawrence has not disputed the
veracity, are based on apparently leaked documents.
In one case, the blog appears to have obtained an internal memo that is
excerpted in a criticism of the universitys decision to cut Upward Bound,
a tutoring program for low-income students. In another instance, the site
published internal memos that it says challenge Sullivans public
statements on why Take Back Our Campus should be blocked.
Some faculty members want the blogs anonymity protected. Whistle-blowing
is an important public function, and you cant have that without anonymous
speech, said a philosophy professor, Rob Loftis. Im not impressed with
their content so far. This isnt the Pentagon Papers, he added of the many
administrative documents posted on the site. But if there was something
big out there, he said, having gadfly groups like this, they might find it.
But other employees think the blog stifles free speech rather than promote
it. The activity on the site had a chilling effect, Doyle said. Some
faculty are now reluctant to have their own images published on official
Web sites. They dont want to put it up to have it ridiculed.
Margaret Bass, an associate dean who had her picture posted, is over it.
Some of my students felt attacked, and I didnt like that. But there are
many organizations I find objectionable, but dont need to know who they
are or shut them down, she said. Still, Bass added, she does not see the
need for anonymity. If I held a position with strong convictions, I would
speak publicly. I cant imagine anyone here ever being disciplined for
that. She added that the cloak of anonymity seems to be protection for
the caustic personal attacks more than policy criticism.
Attempts to reach some of the bloggers via e-mail were unsuccessful by
When ordered by the court, Google Inc. turned over IP addresses from which
comments to the blog were posted posted. According to Take Back Our Campus
placed right under a cartoon of a crying woman the college has already
spent at least $15,000 on the lawsuit. So far there is no indication if
Time Warner Cable will turn over information for those addresses.
One thing is certain: Every step of the process will be blogged about.
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