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Lawyers Get Cyberstalked, via Twitter

It is only Jan. 4, but we already have a contender for strangest social-media story of the year. It involves a California man who used Twitter to retaliate against a lawyer who angered him and who eventually broadened his Twitter-based cyber-vendetta to include an ever-growing list of lawyers he followed and harassed under the name @asshatlawyer.

As Mark Bennett explains at Defending People, it all started after he wrote a post criticizing a California criminal defense lawyer for using a network of fictional Twitter accounts to send traffic to her Web site, where she was scraping other lawyers' content without their permission. All of this was being done for the lawyer -- without her full understanding, it seems -- by a former client, Wayne Conley.

Conley took over management of his lawyer's Web site after he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army after being convicted in a general court martial of instigating and participating in the gang rape of an unconscious soldier and obstructing justice. Bennett's criticism angered Conley, who accused Bennett and other lawyers of destroying the California lawyer's reputation.

Conley embarked on a vendetta against Bennett and others, posting comments on his and other blogs and on Twitter under fake identities, writing fake reviews on Avvo, and even threatening to seek Bennett's disbarment. His greatest "success" came under the Twitter handle "asshatlawyer," an account under which he was able to engage in head-to-head battles with several lawyers.

One he followed was Scott Greenfield, who writes at Simple Justice that Conley's actions revealed "a gaping hole in Twitter and a sad failing in lawyers." Many of the lawyers who Conley followed reciprocated by following him, enabling him to quickly amass several hundred followers and an even larger network for his campaign of harassment and stalking. Greenfield recounts what happened next to the lawyers who followed him:

Then they began to get the ignorant yet venomous twits of the nutjob. In their naiveté, they twitted back, as if to engage a normal person sending absurd and offensive twits. This placed the lawyers on the nutjobs enemies list, and his attacks would then be directed toward them. Some were so foolish as to demand telephone calls to "straighten out" this psycho and his lunatic ravings. They actually invited a psycho into their sphere.

This is the downside to social media, Greenfield warns. His warning garnered agreement from Kevin O'Keefe, who cautions that you ought not to follow everyone who follows you on Twitter; from Eric Turkewitz, who extends that caution to connecting with strangers on any social media site; and from Carolyn Elefant, who says lawyers should be careful out there. I'll add my agreement to the lot, along with the advice that you use the same sort of common sense online as you would anywhere.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 4, 2010 at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)


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