When a Public Family Is Publicly Attacked

"Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University and author of “Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age,” said he thinks Ms. Howerton’s belief that she can regain control of the footage may be overly optimistic.

“The use of home video and family images for political debate is something that has real consequences,” he said. “She has made her life choices, her experiences, her children’ experiences, a matter for public debate. When people do this they do expose themselves to criticism and attacks and some of them are quite unpleasant.”

Her reaction encourages Danielle Citron, a professor of law at the University of Maryland and the author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace,” who notes that the support of the overall online community is key. Anyone who makes a living writing and speaking “can catch the attention of a hate group anytime,” she said, and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the blame for the attacks. “There is nothing that constitutes a meaningful provocation for something like this,” she said. The more we recognize that, the less destructive these kinds of attacks will be."