Burner Site Sets Online Speech Precedent

Image: Williamette Week

Image: Williamette Week

We know that it’s not always sparkles and rainbows in the Burner world, especially on social media. There are trolls and sock puppets, shills, disinformation agents, propagandists, doxing, flame wars, admins blocking users then talking smack about them, and all manner of other antisocial nastiness to contend with [read our guide on how to do that].

Well, one Burner in Portland, Oregon – hometown of Burning Man founder Larry Harvey – has taken things too far.

TL;DR – he set up a doxing site and published court documents. A jury ruled even though there was no defamation, his lawyer stated the ‘jury saw it as some kind of vendetta’, and ruled the blogger has to pay his target a $2200 fine.

From the Williamette Week:

Beware What You Say on Facebook—Even If It’s True

New court ruling holds Portland man liable for inflicting emotional distress by posting another man’s legal history.

A ruling last month in a Portland defamation case could have wide-reaching effect on what people can say about each other on social media—even if those statements are true.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court jury ruled that a local member of the Burning Man community intentionally inflicted emotional distress on another man with two Facebook posts and a website that described him as a danger to women.

The jury awarded Joseph A. Brown $2,200 for emotional distress, even though it found the posts and website created by Phil Hutchinson did not defame Brown or portray him in a false light.

That’s an unusual verdict, says Kyu Ho Youm, a media law professor at the University of Oregon.

“To find someone guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress [without defamation] is extremely unusual,” Youm says. He says juries rarely find someone liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress unless they’ve spread lies. “We are talking about something way outside the boundary of decency.”

WW first reported in December about Brown’s lawsuit against Hutchinson.

On Jan. 30, 2015, Hutchinson wrote a public Facebook post about Brown, alleging he had been ostracized from multiple social circles “for not respecting boundaries and the withholding of sexual consent.”

In a second Facebook post on Feb. 11, 2015, Hutchinson posted a link to a website he created that features several public records related to Brown’s legal history. That history comprises an arrest for voyeurism, restraining orders—including one from his ex-wife—three stalking orders, and a conviction in a “complex burglary case” that culminated in Brown allegedly breaking into a woman’s house and climbing into bed with her.

In a sworn court declaration, Hutchinson stated he didn’t intend to harm Brown but felt he needed to “alert the community to behavior [he] believed caused danger to women who might interact with Mr. Brown.”

Hutchinson says he built the website because he wanted to substantiate his claims. “I thought it would be better than just another vague post on Facebook,” he tells WW.

Hutchinson made the posts and the website after Brown repeatedly broke a no-contact request from an ex-girlfriend (who was Hutchinson’s former roommate) and attempted to apply for services at the nonprofit where she was employed.

Jonathan Radmacher, Hutchinson’s attorney, says Hutchinson, in crafting the website, was acting within reason. “Phil used public record and didn’t delve beyond that,” Radmacher says. “But the jury saw it as some kind of vendetta against Brown.”

Civil suits, Radmacher says, do not set legal precedent, but Hutchinson still has to pay Brown the $2,200 in damages.

Brown’s lawyer, Rebecca Cambreleng, declined to comment on the verdict. Brown could not be reached for comment.

The verdict raises questions about what individuals can and cannot post on social media and what is and is not protected speech on the Internet, where the lines between traditional and social media are becoming increasingly blurred.

“[Hutchinson] was doing a kind of blogging, and his intention has to do with calling attention to very serious public issues,” Youm says. “More people are talking about these kinds of things through their own blogs and websites, and I’m not sure it’s so outrageous as to make a claim to intentional infliction—especially with the evolving journalistic landscape.”

One of the women who testified against Brown, whose name WW is withholding, says she’s hesitant to speak about Brown publicly.

“It’s scarier now to post anything, because you could be fined for speaking out,” she says. “It’s absurd.”

[Source: Williamette Week]

Being fined for speaking out seems extremely absurd in a free country. Building a web site to shower hate on someone is also pretty absurd.

The “explosive sex crimes allegations” story raises, once again, the issue of consent in our community. Some Regionals have made it the 11th Principle, others have talked about it. It’s time for action, BMOrg. How do we achieve radical safety from sex crimes in Black Rock City?



38 comments on “Burner Site Sets Online Speech Precedent

  1. The judge in this case is a dick. Many judges are. Some make mistakes, others are incompetent and still others feel a need to make a point even if it transcends established law. The judge in this case did all of the above.

    I’m not prescient nor am I psychic but I will say with absolute certainty that the ruling will not survive an appeal.

      • Maybe ’14 ways to get tickets in the individual sale” disappeared out of the top 10. It is an old post anyway, BMOrg have changed their systems and so far everyone in each ticket sale has reported smooth, quick, no problems. I would recommend register early and get in line at 12:00:01

        • This was your post on the pre-sale (not the individual sale) from the last week or so (2016) which dealt with it having sold out or not (these are the $1200 and $990 tix), which included references to Reddit, and wasn’t an “old” post in the traditional senses. I looked through the first two pages of your website, and I could’ve missed it but it seems gone.

    • Agreed. The jury can do whatever they want, but the court can only act under law within the limitations of the Constitution. This one needs to be overturned ASAP before vicious spreading of the truth causes distress to Trump and Cosby.

  2. >felt he needed to “alert the community to behavior [he] believed caused danger to women

    Classic case of white-knighting. I’m glad whenever white-knights get the slap down.

    • White-knighting? So now being the good guy is bad?

      For me, it would hang on the woman in question. Was she afraid – of either of these guys? Did she file an amicus brief or send a letter of support of Hutchinson to the court? If not, this could have been reverse-stalking by Hutchinson. Or was she informed and afraid of this crazy judge? Or of Hutchinson?

      • White knights, like Hutchinson, do what they do to defend women not for altruistic reasons. Their ulterior motive is to get laid. I guarantee you, it’s not the $2,200 or any notion of free speech that Hutchinson is upset about – it’s that his website and all the effort he put into drawing attention to the ‘bad man’ to save the women resulted in zero lays.

        • Interesting that you can draw that conclusion from just what is already in evidence from this story. I would have needed the additional facts I mentioned to go in that direction. Can you provide us with links to criminology or psychology studies published in peer-review journals that let you make this blanket conclusion that all white-knights want to get laid. …That is presuming this conclusion is not one of the laws from the PC handbook.

          • The game women play of pitting two men against each other is as old as the hills. Go out barhopping on any weekend in any major city to see it in action. Or read “Games People Play” by Dr Eric Berne, in particular the section called, ‘Let You and Him Fight’. This game works, and has worked forever, because one of the two or both men are trying to ‘win’ (have sex with) the woman. But maybe you’ve lived an incredibly sheltered life and this is all just crazy talk to you without a load scientific evidence to back it up.

            Anyway, In this case, our damsel in distress is at a gathering with Hutchinson and her ex boyfriend shows up (like that’s never happened before). Allegedly, she had written him a letter saying stay 50 feet away from her. This letter is not a legal order, but Hutchinson thinks it’s good enough to tell the ex to move away. Hutchinson is in the wrong here and has no right to ask the ex to move anywhere. This is the beginning of the game our damsel has set in motion. If the ex is such a threat, why didn’t she get an actual restraining order? It could be that she tried but a judge determined her ex wasn’t a threat to her.

            If you’re like most people you think Hutchinson is a stand up guy and it doesn’t matter what his ulterior motives are – protecting women is always a good thing, right?. Hutchinson is the damsel’s pawn, and like so many good white knight soldiers before him, he marches into battle against the evil bad man that the damsel has pointed her finger at. Where this game of ‘Let You and Him Fight’ (that women are so fond of playing) turns ugly (and far too often it does) is when one of the two men ends up injured or dead, and the other one ends up in prison. Over what, the damsel’s honor? There’s no honor in causing two men to fight just to puff you up and serve your ego, which is exactly what she was doing.

            Also, if you a feminist like I am – women don’t fucking need men to protect them. It implies we’re weak and fragile damsels in distress and we need drag around a guy like Hutchinson where ever we go to clear the path of anything or anyone unwanted.

            Hutchinson is a fool and got played like a fool. Our damsels’ ex may be a loose screw, but she chose him at one time. That’s the kind of guy she’s attracted to. Further demonstrating her lack of good judgement.

  3. Here is the subjective part that you wrote that is problematic:”…has taken things too far…” and “…to shower hate on someone is also pretty absurd.”

    First, how is putting ajudicated public information on the web taking things too far?

    Second, how is putting ajudicated public information on the web showering hate?

    If it was sarcastic (imagine THAT!) it did not seem to work.

    But you should be applauded for blogging the story, and asking: How do we achieve radical safety from sex crimes in Black Rock City?

    The idea of posting (or having a book of) pictures of previous convicted rapists and child molesters who committed crimes in BRC in previous years at Center Camp is an interesting idea. However, citing this case suggests against that.

    Solution: don’t go to the NV burn.

    • He took things too far because he was ordered to pay $2200. However the plaintiff was seeking $69,000 in emotional distress. More of a loss than a win for them too.

      I haven’t read the Court documents, or the hate site.

      Maybe this new registry could expand to record political correctness infarctions, MOOP, scalping and other shameable offenses.

      • When I said, “who committed crimes in BRC;” I meant to say, “who were convicted of crimes in BRC.” That would make such pictures public adjudicated information, less speculative than pictures of the FBI Most Wanted in the local Post Office. Having pictures of past convicted felons sounds like a good idea since there is no “community history,” and the Borg seems to choose to invite people in such a way that the rapists who would naturally be drawn to the NV burn get tickets. At least that would compromise repeat offenders.

        I would similarly support posting pictures of convicted bike thieves at bike racks where the bikes were stolen in NYC.

      • Kudos for blogging this story, and desiring to assist women in regards of consent. My belief is his site is a doxing site, it is not a hate site, and it is not slander, and the TLDR might be edited in the manner of

        TL;DR – he set up a doxing site and published court documents. A jury ruled even though there was no defamation, his lawyer stated the ‘jury saw it as some kind of vendetta’, and ruled the blogger has to pay his target a $2200 fine.

          • Tell me where the “hate-crime” line gets crossed for Photos of Convicted Sex Offense Criminals and their Crimes:

            1. Posted on LE web pages for all to see.
            2. Posted on commercial and private-owned web pages for all to see.
            3. Posted on maps for the locations where crime was committed.
            4. Linked to Google Maps for the locations they were last seen or crime last committed.
            5. Linked to your neighborhood searches for “crime and safety.”
            6. Linked to your realtive’s address on social media site.
            7. Linked to your friend’s address on social media site.
            8. Posted on a web site with a map of BRC for the locations where crime was committed.
            9. Posted on a web site dedicated to a realtive who was raped or killed.
            10. Posted on a social media site dedicated to a realtive who was raped or killed.
            11. Posted on a social media page to warn a friend who you don’t want to sleep with.
            12. Posted on a social media page to warn a friend who you want to sleep with.
            13. Posted on a social media page to warn a friend who you want to sleep with but don’t have a chance.

            (Warning, some of these are real. Don’t cheat and use Google.)

  4. Oh my god. On top of all that, the title of this blog post says it sets a precedent when the article says it doesn’t set a precedent. Is this post a prank?

  5. Your TL;DR says “they set up a hate site and slandered them,” Then your summary says “Being fined for speaking out seems extremely absurd in a free country. Building a web site to shower hate on someone is also pretty absurd.”

    Does it really seem to the writer that letting people know that someone is a rapist is a “hate site” that’s “absurd” and “slander?”

    The embedded article clearly states the information was true and in the form of public records. So opinions aside, that means no slander.

    But as far as opinions go, how can you justify calling it hateful and absurd to warn others about a rapist? How do you have the nerve to follow up supporting rapists by asking how to achieve radical safety from sex crimes?

    Shame on whoever wrote this.

      • I don’t think “safety” is supporting rapists, I think it’s offensive for you to act like you care about safety if you’re going to call warnings about rapists absurd and hateful. What’s hateful or absurd about warning others that someone is a rapist?

          • Do you consider sex offender registries to be shaming, absurd, or hateful? Am I missing something here? Are you not denigrating those who warned others about them?

          • Are you suggesting someone set up a Burner sex offender public registry? Would this be based on the legal system, or social media allegations?

          • I’m suggesting that there’s nothing hateful or absurd about warning others someone is a rapist any more than it would be to warn others that someone was a thief or murderer when it is true and public knowledge.

          • Public shaming and personal vendettas are vigilante justice, which thankfully is illegal. In our country of laws, justice is pursued through the legal system, because vigilante justice is so often applied incorrectly and excessively, even if in this case, the charges were valid. I support this ruling.

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