Why were neo-Nazis enraged by a proposed real estate transaction? She got angry phone calls, hateful texts, intimidating emails and racist social media posts.Because Spencer is the mother of Richard Spencer, a leader of the "alt-right" movement of self-identified white nationalists. People she'd never met urged Gersh to kill herself.The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, is representing Gersh."It would have been so much easier for us to lay as low as possible and let it all blow over," Gersh said in an interview.He even gave them her address, prompting six men to show up at her door.But it's hard to sue an anonymous troll, and big social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are protected by the Communications Decency Act.
Gersh, who is Jewish, also received Christmas cards with messages such as "Thanks for demonstrating why your race needs to be collectively ovened" and "You are surprisingly easy to find on the internet.
But the laws were narrow and generally addressed a method, say harassment over the phone, rather than a broad range of intimidating behavior, says Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and author of the book "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace." And they aren't used often, she says. We have been improving them over time, but we need to use them," Citron said.
"When we don't use them, harassers just get to say 'f--- you' and walk away." Federal and state laws have evolved since the era of dial-up internet and they cover crimes ranging from cyberstalking to harassing telephone calls.
Editor's note: In July, CNET News published a special report exploring how hate spreads over the web.
The stories in that series examined Internet-fueled intolerance.