This is a cautionary tale about, among other things, what happens when highly privileged people who should know better don’t have the courage to stand up to an out of control internet bully and cyber stalker.
Here’s the series of events:
(1) Last week I announced that there would be no further posts on ITLSS. This decision seems to have been some sort of triggering event for Prof. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago law school, who has had a bizarre obsession with the blog from the very beginning (For example, an amusing and instructive incident took place just two days into the blog’s existence, when Inside Higher Ed published a story about it. This story unleashed a stream of comments from a “Brian L.,” a self-identified law professor with a disturbingly comprehensive knowledge of the finest gradations of hierarchical status among law schools, who boasted that it would be easy enough to out the then still-anonymous author of the blog. Oddly enough, immediately after these comments appeared, Brian Leiter posted in the thread:
By my quick count, using the AALS Directory, there are only 4 “Brian L.’s” in law teaching, so the Brian L., above (not me needless to say), isn’t concealing his identity very much!
Yes, needless to say!
Moving right along . . .Over the next 18 months Leiter found himself unable to go very long without posting something derogatory about ITLSS, although he claimed he never read the blog (his attention was invariably drawn to it by a “distinguished colleague.”). In another odd coincidence, an anonymous commenter on ITLSS with a literary style strikingly similar to Leiter’s (what might be called “narcissistic snark”) posted hundreds of comments on the blog during this time.
In any case, my last post produced within just a few hours another blast of vituperation, which, like everything else he had written about me since the first month of the blog’s existence, I ignored.
Then this weekend I got several messages from people who said Leiter was cyber-stalking them. I looked into their claims, and discovered the following:
(1) A young associate at a Nevada law firm had sent Leiter a simple one-sentence email, containing a pointed question, but no abusive language or any other inappropriate content. This unleashed The Great Man’s wrath, in a blog post that reads like a parody of an arrogant, sublimely clueless law professor attempting to put the peasantry in their place.
(2) A post on JD Underground (since deleted), in which a poster going by the handle of “aduren” asked if a JDU poster who goes by the handle Dybbuk was [name of a lawyer]. Dybbuk’s crime, apparently, is that he referred to the distinguished professor as a “Nietzschian ubermunchkin,” and that he criticized a protege of Leiter’s as unqualified for a job on an American law school faculty, given that he had literally no practice experience and wrote on esoteric subjects that would be of no practical use to the vast majority of practicing lawyers. In the post linked above, Leiter, in his characteristically slimy fashion, announces that “Dybbuk’s most egregious piece of libel and harassment” has been removed from the internet, without giving his audience any hint about to what he’s referring (This is probably a reference to the post criticizing Leiter’s protege).
(3) An email to a lawyer, which contained a not-very veiled threat in the event that the lawyer was the person who had posted certain critical opinions regarding Leiter (but nothing even remotely abusive or potentially libelous) on certain law blogs.
(4) The very interesting story of Brian Leiter’s Rotting Teeth. BLRT is the handle of a poster who last week posted some critical things about Leiter on ITLSS, the Volokh Conspiracy, Prawfsblawg, and The Faculty Lounge. A day or two after they appeared, the posts on TFL were deleted, and shortly afterwards BLRT received two emails. In his/her words:
I received two emails. The first said “your comments are being deleted all over, how are things in Virginia?”
The second email said “I notice you’ve been posting less. Is it because everybody knows your IP address is [number]”
The author of the emails was a “Peter Aduren” at firstname.lastname@example.org. That name means nothing to me or to Google. Maybe it does to one of you.
A LGM commenter noticed immediately that “Aduren” is “Neruda” backwards, and that a few weeks ago Leiter had blogged about that poet. (Note it’s also the handle of the person so eager to out Dybbuk on JDU).
Incredibly (this is a rhetorical device; those who know Leiter will find nothing incredible about it), Leiter made the following suggestion in his post attacking the “insolence” of the young lawyer who had impaired the
obsessive freak’s Director of the Center For Law, Philosophy & Human Values dignity:
I do think we law professors, and especially those with blogs, have been far too tolerant of malicious and unprofessional conduct by usually anonymous or pseudonymous lawyers and students. Mr. Grover deserves credit for signing his name to his stupidity, and, of course, his intervention is a relatively mild example of juvenile nonsense emanating from putative lawyers. I’ve generally let most of this garbage pass in silence, but in the coming weeks I’m going to be posting a bit more about some alleged legal professionals whose on-line conduct deserves to be aired in public.
This is an excellent idea: hence this post.
One important question that remains to be answered is, who gave Leiter BLRT’s IP and email address, which facilitated Leiter’s subsequent cyber-stalking and harassment? The obvious suspect is somebody at The Faculty Lounge (which deleted BLRT’s posts), and the obvious candidate from among the site’s bloggers is Dan Filler, who co-blogs on Leiter’s law school blog.
I emailed Filler this morning, asking him about the comment on TFL that someone had almost immediately deleted, which posed this question. He didn’t respond, so I posed the same question to the site’s nine other regular bloggers, who also failed to respond. Subsequently, I emailed Filler to let him know I was going to assume he had given Leiter all the identifying information he had about BLRT, and that if this was assumption was mistaken, he should let me know.
He hasn’t responded to this request, which, given that this isn’t a criminal court, isn’t the kind of silence that won’t be held against him.
The lesson for anonymous visitors to The Faculty Lounge’s site seems clear: don’t assume your anonymity will be preserved, no matter what (certainly) ethical and (arguably) legal obligation the site’s administrators have to do so.
. . . Pouca, from comments:
The irony is incredible – Leiter is vituperative about anonymous commentators, criticising their morals, ethics etc. He then sneaks the identity of a few of these commentators and – not having the courage to publicly out them, outs them on blogs using a variety of pseudonyms such a Brian (prawsblawg) and aduren (other blogs) demonstrating a jaw dropping lack of any sense of self-awareness or of the utter hypocrisy involved. Moreover it is now wildly apparent that while ranting about anonymous commentators in blogs, Leiter was running multiple anonymous handles and having, it seems, sock-puppet conversations too.
(1) 24 hours after contacting them directly, I still haven’t heard anything from Dan Filler or any of the other bloggers at The Faculty Lounge. In my view, the evidence is fairly compelling that TFL turned over private contact information of an anonymous commenter to Brian Leiter, who then proceeded to anonymously harass the commenter via some fairly creepy cyber-stalking (“How are things in Virginia?” “I’ve noticed you’ve been posting less. Is it because everybody knows your IP address is _____?”)
(2) Leiter also posted under a pseudonym at JD Underground this weekend, in an attempt to get confidential information regarding “Dybbuk’s” real identity from the posters there, in order to try to get Dybbuk in trouble with his employer.
(3) Over the past few days, Leiter has also been threatening people under his own name, implying or telling them straight out that he is going to try to get them in trouble at their workplaces, because they engaged in “unprofessional” behavior. (It’s important to recall that the “unprofessional” behavior in question here consists of criticizing Brian Leiter.)
(4) This little campaign has been waged at precisely the same time that Leiter has been railing against the purported abuse of anonymity on the internet by members of the legal profession.
(5) On an amusing and pathetic side note, Leiter has employed a sock puppet at Top Law Schools in an attempt to recruit students to the University of Chicago Law School who are interested in law and philosophy, because of the presence of Brian Leiter. (“PhiloStudent’s” TLS registration email address is the same as the one Leiter used to harass BLRT and to post on JDU).
In sum, Leiter is a flagrantly dishonest hypocrite, whose actions would certainly merit professional sanction if he were a member of a bar. The people at The Faculty Lounge who are enabling this sort of despicable behavior should be ashamed of themselves.