Mimesis Law
23 April 2019

The Roast of Social Autopsy: It Gets Worse (Update)

Apr. 15, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Tech start-up “Social Autopsy” is a case study in ironic failure.  I can’t tell if they’re total idiots, intellectually dishonest, or a bit of both.  Regardless, they want to “save the virtual world” from “cyberbullies and trolls” by creating the digital version of the “Burn Book” from the film “Mean Girls.” They’ll do this by creating a searchable database of social media profiles, stripping any “digital anonymity,” and tying it all to a real name and business.  “Social Autopsy” wants to save the world from mean thoughts by creating the polar opposite of a real “social autopsy,” one that benefits kids with developmental disabilities.  To quote legal scholar Carlos Valencia, “It gets worse.”

Rick Lavoie, a person with expertise in learning disabilities, developed the “social autopsy” eleven years ago for autistic children who didn’t understand social mores.  An adult helps a child examine where a problem with their social skills occurred, analyzes that problem, and works with the child to make sure they have a framework for dealing with that gaffe and similar issues.  In outlining the “take away” points of a social autopsy, Lavoie pointed out the fine print Candace Owens and her “squad” missed.

Remember the Autopsy is..not:

  • a punishment or scolding

  • an investigation to assign blame

  • controlled/conducted exclusively by an adult

  • a one-time “cure” for teaching the targeted social skill

Now that you’re familiar with what a “social autopsy” really is, let’s see if the Degree 180 team’s proposed pitch holds true to that concept.  SPOILER ALERT: This gets worse.  Their pitch starts with a nebulous, but totally fun idea.  Let’s get rid of cyber-bullying.

Somewhere between cells phones and technology (and the extinction of the VHS tape maybe) we’ve managed to create a culture of online-bullying, which was totally cool never, so it’s time we put an end to it once and for all. 

It’s hard to tell whether “cells phones” is a scrivener’s error or if the Social Autopsy team is referring to the phones in jails people use to call my office. Granting this group of well meaning women a pass, I’ll assume it’s the latter.  Those things are terrible and worthy of extinction.  Will Social Autopsy break them to end harassment?  No, it gets worse.

[What’s] the number one defense people use when they are making awful, nasty comments online? Freedom of Speech.

Can’t argue that one, so let’s instead help them magnify those freedoms. Let’s launch a database where we capture them exercising those rights and create digital records for them that anyone can access.

Yup. We consider ourselves to be patriots.

These “patriots” think it’s a great idea to promote free speech by creating a platform to eliminate bullying by calling people bullies. What a revolutionary concept! No one, in the history of ever, has ever accomplished something like this for free.  I bet no one’s written a book on this.

One question: What happens if your site accidentally links the wrong person with the wrong profile?  Can they comment on the site to ask for a correction or clarification?  Nope, but it does get worse.

Important to note: We do not allow any commenting on our site because we do not want to host a platform for any bullying ourselves [Except the kind we decide to promote. You know, the whole “calling people mean names thing is bad unless we do it” thing]

To keep this clear, that bracketed comment is mine, and now I’ve got another question. Has Social Autopsy’s totally fun team heard of a thing called “false light invasion of privacy,” or have you spent all your capital collecting data on people who might be able to spare you from an “epic fail?” If you’re still reading, you’ve probably guessed the answer to my question. “It gets worse.”

Thus far we have worked to collect data and create about 22,000 profiles from individuals that are surprising all over the employment spectrum (doctors, teachers, lawyers, you name it).

My next question would be whether the $75,000 you’re asking for will be to pay for legal fees when you get sued, because it’s going to happen. It looks like this is the one point on which “Social Autopsy” and I agree.

With your backing…We will immediately apply your funding to hiring a team of paid interns for the summer.. We will devote all remaining funds toward our legal team, which we are going to need intact when we bring this site live. [Emphasis added.]

Those with rational thought and at least a third-grade level of reading comprehension are probably thinking Social Autopsy’s legal team consists of very recent law grads who managed to squeak by the bar exam. I’m a sleep-deprived dad, though, and don’t really get this concept of “hate speech” that Social Autopsy says is so prevalent on the internet.  In fact, I can’t even think of a legal definition for “hate speech.”  Fortunately, this is Fault Lines, so we can always phone a friend.  Professor Eugene Volokh?  Is there a legal definition for “hate speech” in the United States?

“[Hate] speech”… doesn’t have any fixed legal meaning under U.S. law. U.S. law has just never had occasion to define “hate speech” — any more than it has had occasion to define rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn but that does not constitute a legally relevant category.

A respected scholar says “UR A DUM LOZER LOL” isn’t hate speech, no matter how much Social Autopsy’s team wants to believe otherwise. I’m feeling generous today, so let’s revisit the REAL “social autopsy” principles and see if Degree 180’s team comes close to the original idea.  Yes, it gets worse.

  • A website wants to “magnify” speech its creators deem “problematic” in a searchable database, link the social media posts of that speech to a person, and tie all of this to a business. Sounds like a “punishment.”
  • This website is positive for the creators and backers, and negative for others. *The site is allegedly controlled by adults and doesn’t involve participation of those at the center of the “problem.”
  • The team doesn’t conduct their “social autopsy” close to the occurrence and might not even involve the right target.
  • Degree 180’s “Social Autopsy” remains in full view of the subject’s peers.

So the “Social Autopsy” team is willing to double down on stupid. I’m not really surprised by this, as a ten second scan of the blog where they share “[ableist slur] ideas” tells me they’re wiling to call women “fat cows,” equate a Presidential candidates’ social media usage to that of a “13 year old girl,” and criticize women who want reproductive freedom as “ignorant, gullible, and woefully self-absorbed.” It’s my one hope their founder decides to discuss (at her TED Talk, branded by her mom as the “most important talk of the century”) how these matters meet Social Autopsy’s “shared message” of “Love is Easier.”

In case anyone’s new to Fault Lines: Yes, I stand by these words.  And while you’re here, sign up for our newsletter.  We bring the best legal analysis to your inbox daily, and we don’t need a Kickstarter to do it.

Update:  Kickstarter pulled Social Autopsy’s funding the day before this post ran.  The same day my good natured ribbing appeared at Fault Lines, Randi Lee Harper, an “anti-harassment activist,” ran an open letter to Candace Owens, calling her a “trainwreck,” “shady as hell,” a “fucking idiot,” and that her idea was “shit” on Medium. Over the weekend, Owens’ Twitter feed disintegrated into a maddening series of attacks on Randi Lee Harper, Zoe Quinn, and others.  The highlight of insanity culminated in a New York Magazine post and a Degree 180 invective calling Social Autopsy’s demise a “GamerGate conspiracy” and vowing to re-launch the site with a GamerGate focus.

Let that sink in. Owens’ “Love is Easier” approach fell apart the moment people called her names.  She responded by calling people names and eventually melting down into a conspiracy theory worthy of a [ableist slur]house. Rarely do you see life imitate art, but for Candace Owens, it really did get worse.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Richard G. Kopf
    18 April 2016 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Chris,

    How do I get on the list? I could write a post about how a few female lawyers dress if that would help. Or maybe . . .

    All the best.

    RGK

    • CLS
      18 April 2016 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Your Honor:

      Please, whatever you do, don’t ever write something like that. Heaven forbid a mob of pearl clutching activists start shrieking as you attempt to make a valid point and yell “OMG THIS MAN IZ FEDERAL JUDGE!!!!!” People might attempt to attack your job over this. They might even try and mischaracterize you as a “misogynist.”

      I can’t see someone ever allowing that to happen. Just might send out the wrong ideas about you.

      Best,
      –CLS

  • Cyber-bullying, harassment, Quinn, Harper and Owens — a SocialAutopsy
    21 April 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    […] Twitter hashtag #SocialAutopsy and was soon picked up first by Cathy Young (see also her update), Chris Steaton of Mimesis Law and Tracy Clark-Flory and Jacob Steinblatt of Vocativ. Over the weekend, The Ralph Retort managed […]

  • Gilbert Police: Shame On You For Cyberbulling A Teen
    22 April 2016 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    […] has yet to be determined whether any notable defenders of such vicious online harassment plan to mount a counterattack against the Gilbert Police […]

  • Adrian Veidt
    26 April 2016 at 12:18 am - Reply

    Cherry picking? Really?

    • CLS
      26 April 2016 at 7:21 am - Reply

      I already triggered you thirty-five minutes ago.