|Type of site||Internet forum|
|Created by||Jarret Cohen|
AutoAdmit, also known as Xoxohth, is a network of websites for prospective and current college, graduate, law students, and lawyers most notorious for its largely unmoderated message board. Its law school message board is now the only active section. The message board, which bills itself as "the most prestigious admissions board in the world," has drawn the attention and criticism of some in the legal community and the media, most notably the Wall Street Journal, and National Public Radio for its lack of moderation of offensive and defamatory content.
AutoAdmit, originally named Xoxohth, was founded in early 2004 by Jarret "rachmiel" Cohen. It was programmed in PHP from scratch by Cohen and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student under the moniker "Boondocks" in order to emulate the old Allaire Forums software the Princeton Review message boards used. AutoAdmit's first users were dissatisfied with changes made to the Princeton Review message board in March 2004, such as stricter moderation of discussions and the abandonment of the message board's popular tree format in favor of a vBulletin-type format.
The AutoAdmit internet forum is the centerpiece of the website. It features two modes: "School-related" and "School-related + Off-topic." While the default mode is "School-related" and is intended to contain posts dealing strictly with school and job-related topics, it is the more active "Off-topic" mode which has been the main subject of controversy.
Criticism and controversy
On March 11, 2005, Brian Leiter of the University of Texas at Austin accused AutoAdmit of being "a massive forum for bizarre racist, anti-semitic, and viciously sexist postings, mixed in with posts genuinely related to law school" on his blog. This provoked the AutoAdmit administrators to suggest that Leiter had "proactively searched" for lewd content on the website.
S. R. Sidarth impersonator
On August 25, 2006, two weeks after Republican U.S. Senator George Allen used the term "macaca" to describe S. R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old Jim Webb campaign volunteer, conservative blogger Dan Riehl accused Sidarth of making racially insensitive and homophobic posts on the AutoAdmit message board, including posts where Sidarth allegedly admitted to having sex with a transvestite while high on methamphetamine.. Although several blog commenters informed Riehl that the S. R. Sidarth poster on AutoAdmit was an impersonator, and while Sidarth himself denied ever posting on AutoAdmit, Riehl refused to retract his story, arguing that Sidarth's denial "cannot be verified without an IP check, which I imagine would violate privacy restrictions".
On August 28, 2006, after the owner of the S.R. Sidarth moniker on AutoAdmit changed his moniker and explained to Riehl that he was not actually S.R. Sidarth, Riehl threatened AutoAdmit's administrators with a lawsuit and alluded to pursuing felony criminal charges against the site. These threats were mocked by AutoAdmit users, and inspired a parody thread where users documented testimony from the fictitious Riehl v. Xoxohth trial. As of June 21, 2012, no actual civil lawsuit or criminal proceedings have been initiated.
Fake Milbank memo
On November 29, 2006, a group of paralegals at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, a large New York law firm, posed as Milbank attorneys on AutoAdmit and posted a fictitious Milbank internal memorandum announcing year-end bonus compensation amounts for the firm's attorneys. The hoax was staged a few hours after a Wall Street Journal article reported on the mounting speculation over law firm bonus amounts for that year. Because the fake internal memo announced bonuses that would have made total compensation only slightly higher than the past year, the post immediately evoked a sharp response from associates at other law firms who had expected a higher raise and feared their firms would match Milbank's announcement. During the hoax, AutoAdmit Studies administrator Anthony Ciolli revealed, "It seems like virtually every firm in the Vault Top 50 [law firms] is represented in the IP logs for this thread". The pranksters soon confessed to the elaborate hoax, prompting legal blogger David Lat to give them "credit for decent execution" for sparking the frenzied discussion.
Anonymous speech and harassment
On March 1, 2007, ABC News profiled two Yale Law School students, who alleged that harassing and defamatory comments had been posted about them on AutoAdmit.[not in citation given] On March 7, 2007, the Washington Post published a front-page article featuring AutoAdmit that reported similar allegations and raised questions regarding freedom of speech and anonymity. On 19 March 2007, a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "Trash Talk" by Elizabeth Wurtzel criticized the AutoAdmit law message board as a forum of "mean-spirited" gossip.
The sudden publicity sparked a flurry of debate as well as a new wave of harassment and threats against the Yale Law School students, including an incident that led Anthony Ciolli, a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and one of AutoAdmit's administrators, to resign. The law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge revoked an offer of employment to Ciolli; Charles DeWitt, managing partner at the firm's Boston office, explained to Ciolli via private correspondence, "We expect any lawyer affiliated with our firm, when presented with the kind of language exhibited on the message board, to reject it and to disavow any affiliation with it. You, instead, facilitated the expression and publication of such language."
Deans from Yale Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School condemned the misogynistic and defamatory postings on AutoAdmit. Others have noted that this behavior is so unethical as to jeopardize one's prospects for bar admission and employment. Brad Wendel, a legal ethics professor at Cornell Law School, wrote, "If I were one of the students who made some of the worst of these comments, I'd be sweating bullets right now."
On June 12, 2007, the two Yale students who were allegedly harassed filed a lawsuit against Anthony Ciolli and a number of AutoAdmit's anonymous posters, claiming their "character, intelligence, appearance, and sexual lives have been thoroughly trashed by the defendants". Filed in the District Court of Connecticut, the case, Doe v. Ciolli, 307CV00909 CFD, cites violation of privacy, defamation, infliction of undue emotional distress, and copyright infringement against Ciolli and several anonymous posters. The two plaintiffs were represented pro bono by the litigation boutique Keker & Van Nest LLP, David N. Rosen, a Yale Law School professor, and Mark Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in computer and internet law. While AutoAdmit's reported lack of IP logging may prevent the plaintiffs from learning the defendants' true identities, the case could prove to be very significant within computer and internet law if it does make it to trial. The plaintiffs subsequently dropped Ciolli's name from the list of defendants, and successfully obtained Doe subpoenas of Internet service providers (ISPs) in hopes of identifying the anonymous defendants. The attorneys have now discovered the names of some, but not all, of the offending posters.
In March 2008, Anthony Ciolli filed his own suit against Heide Iravani, Brittan Heller, Ross Chanin, Reputation Defender, the law firm of Keker & Van Nest, as well as lawyer David N. Rosen and law professor Mark Lemley. Amongst other claims, Ciolli alleges slander, libel, and abuse of process, due to extensions of service. In March 2009, the court dismissed Brittan Heller from the suit because Ciolli never served her.
UC Hastings evacuation
On April 18, 2007, two days after the Virginia Tech massacre, an individual under the moniker "Trustafarian", a first-year law student at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, posted the following message in an AutoAdmit thread called "just decided not to do a murder–suicide copycat at Hastings Law".
Date: April 18th, 2007 1:35 p.m.
I went to bed all set for "Bloody Wednesday," but when I woke -- to sun, to flowers in bloom -- I just couldn't bring myself to suit up.
Maybe tomorrow; I hear rain's in the forecast."
The posting was later edited by the poster to read "wgwag", (as it currently reads now), which stands for "White Girls With Asian Guys", in an attempt to make it appear as if the original posting were intended as a joke.
At 10:14 p.m., Jarret Cohen, AutoAdmit's President, issued a statement providing further information:
This afternoon, the dean of the University of California, Hastings College of Law, acting on the advice of the FBI, cancelled classes and evacuated the building after becoming aware of a message posted on the AutoAdmit discussion board. An individual has come forward to claim responsibility for that message, and when the FBI special agent in charge of this matter contacted me I put him in touch with this person. My expectation is that this matter will, from this point on, be handled between the poster, the authorities, and the school.
On April 25, 2007, Christopher Edley, Jr., Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, recommended the poster be expelled for "the intrinsic wrongfulness of the act itself, but also the disruption, turmoil, and emotional toll" on both the Hastings and Boalt communities.
- Hoffman, Dave (1 November 2006). "Xoxohth 1.1: The Past and Present". Concurring Opinions. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
- Kerr, Orin (16 April 2007). "Legal Responses to Cyberbullying". The Volokh Conspiracy. Archived from the original on 23 May 2007. Retrieved 17 April 2007.
- Leiter, Brian (11 March 2005). "Penn Law Student, Anthony Ciolli, Admits to Running Prelaw Discussion Board Awash in Racist, Anti-Semitic, Sexist Abuse". Leiter Reports. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
- Koppel, Nathan (29 November 2006). "Jury's Still Out on Wall Street Law Bonuses". Wall Street Journal. pp. C1.
- Lat, David (30 November 2006). "Associate Bonus Watch: The Milbank Memo Is Fake". AboveTheLaw. Retrieved 30 November 2006.
- Marikar, Sheila (1 March 2007). "After Years of Telling All, 20-Somethings Start to Clam Up". ABC News.
- Nakashima, Ellen (7 March 2007). "Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web". Washington Post. pp. A–1.
- Hoffman, Dave (13 March 2007). "Penn Law Student "Resigns" From Xoxohth". Concurring Opinions. Retrieved 15 March 2007.
- Efrati, Amir (3 May 2007). "Law Firm Rescinds Offer to Ex-AutoAdmit Executive". . Archived from the original on 5 May 2007. Retrieved 3 May 2007.
- "Dean of Yale Law School condemns 'despicable' sexist attacks on students", Ms. JD
- "Wired Campus: A Chat Site for Law Students Draws Fire for Allowing Personal Attacks".
- "This may be a subject of concern", Legal Ethics Forum, March 2007.
- , June 2007.
- Efrati, Amir (12 June 2007). "Students File Suit Against Ex-AutoAdmit Director, Others". . Archived from the original on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 12 June 2007.
- "Has AutoAdmit Been Pwn3d?". . 12 June 2007. Archived from the original on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2007.
- "Anthony Ciolli Dropped from Auto Admit Lawsuit". . 9 November 2007.
- "AutoAdmit Case Moves Forward; Federal Judge Approves Request to Subpoena ISPs for Clues to Anonymous Posters’ Identities". Yale Daily News. 31 January 2008.
- "The AutoAdmit Scandal: The XOXOTH Secret Forum Identities". Law Vibe.
- "Complaint in Ciolli v. Iravani et al."
- "Just decided not to do a murder-suicide copycat at Hastings Law".
- "http://www.autoadmit.com/thread.php?thread_id=616215&forum_id=2#7956138 Just decided not to do a murder-suicide copycat at Hastings Law]", AutoAdmit.
- Lagos, Marisa (18 April 2007). "Copycat Threat Shuts Hastings Law School". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Lin, Laurie (26 April 2007). "Boalt To Expel AutoAdmit Prankster?". Above the Law.