The case of Jake Baker (1997) transformed into a full-scale debate on topics ranging from freedom of expression to pornography and obscenity. To better analyze the ethical aspects of Baker’s case, it is important to first consider three key factors. The first factor is the nature of the stories Baker made up – they were astonishingly graphic and included scenes of torture, rape, and murder. The second factor is the medium used for the distribution of the stories – electronic bulletin board available through the Internet. The third factor – the event that occurred on January 9th, 1995; Baker posted a violence-riddled story that included the real name of one of his classmates. The case prosecutors made against Baker facilitated discussion on the ideas of cyberlaw as well as freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
specifically for you
for only $16.05 $11/page
Was It a Threat?
Jake Baker was charged following the law that prohibits the use of interstate communications to make a threat (The Ethical Spectacle par. 6). However, this law could be applied in case if Baker wrote an open letter to his classmate and made it available to the entire group or wrote her a direct letter via post or email. Thus, it is hard to characterize Baker’s stories as threats because it was not predictable that his classmate would see her name in the stories. This point is crucial for understanding the actions of the law enforcement made against Baker since Federal laws of threat are designed to protect citizens from direct harassments conducted through email, mail, or telephone calls.
Thus, a threat that was issued indirectly and was available for view to a relatively large audience cannot be qualified as a threat outlined in the Federal law. If to analyze Baker’s stories in the context of conspiracy laws, they also do not fit. Such laws require an offender to commit an overt act because people can envision different kinds of crimes that they have no real intention of committing. For example, if the law convicted people who were casually threatening to kill a politician they did not like, there won’t be enough prisons to lock them all. In both cases of threat and conspiracy, the laws were created to make a clear definition between unprotected and protected speech. Under the First Amendment, a citizen has a right to say or write many objectionable and unpleasant things; however, such speech is not protected when it occurs in front of another person that is being threatened.
While Jake Baker did not cross any legal line, he was very close to crossing it. As far as the story he made up is concerned, Baker could be classified as crossing the line of law only in the case when the story he had written was intended to be a direct threat made against his female classmate. It is crucial to remember that people may say such things regularly; the key difference is that the words were never intended to turn into action.
It can be asserted that Jake Baker cannot be considered as a completely safe and harmless individual since he found it rewarding to fantasize about murder, rape, and torture, not to mention the fact that he liked discussing these foul topics with other people. His email to Arthur Gonda from Ontario can suggest that he was at least half-serious about fulfilling his fantasies and possibly harming another person. Nevertheless, being a “latent” murderer is not considered a crime in the United States due to the issue of proof and the fact that the thought of murder crossed the minds of the majority of people. While the public can be sometimes critical of how the law punishes more than it prevents (The Ethical Spectacle par. 10), it would only be possible to prevent murders through psychological testing, which could result in arrests of non-murderers.
The Internet as a Medium
The analysis of Baker’s case is impossible without mentioning the nature of the medium, which he used to share his story. The breakthrough of the Internet as a global information-sharing medium spanned controversial discussions about the implications of its usage for the society. While at one extreme, people recognize the grave danger to social structures and human relations, at another extreme, people advocated for a great range of benefits, especially regarding the concept of freedom of expression (Brey 41). For example, nearly everyone can agree that the Internet allows all users, including those similar to Jake Baker, to express their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and share them with others, facilitating conversation and constructive criticism. On the other hand, nearly everyone can agree that the Internet allows people to freely share dangerous and hateful information. Moreover, the malleability of computers and the Internet allows people to use them in unexpected ways, for which the law often does not have any specifically formulated policies that control their use, as mentioned by Moor (95).
Because Baker wrote his stories in 1995, there were no policies that regulated such events, which means that his arrest did not have any legal explanation. On the other hand, from the ethical perspective, the decision to arrest Baker and press charges against him can be explained by the law enforcement’s desire to protect Baker’s classmate from possible victimization had his intentions to harm her were true. However, even in case if Baker had the intent to cause harm to his classmate, the story he published on an Internet newsgroup cannot be considered as a threat, as already discussed above.
100% original paper
on any topic
done in as little as
Discussing the issue of privacy is ineffective in the case of Baker, even though this topic has been extensively discussed in the context of Internet use (Lester 29). When it comes to privacy, it is important to mention the protection of Baker’s classmates’ identity. She has never spoken about the incident, which may span some discussion about the curious phenomenon that the victim of the case was not real while the perpetrator was. As Professor Mackinnon mentioned in her book Only Words, in such cases, women are perceived as an inferior class that passively cooperates in the violence against them (47).
Was It Right to Expel Baker?
The University of Michigan reacted to the incident in a way that any university would have reacted to a student writing stories about torturing and murdering his classmate. Nevertheless, the decision to expel him can be regarded as dual: while the University wanted to protect its student from possible victimization and ensure a safe environment, the management disregarded the fact that Baker has a legal right to write such stories. However, it can be asserted that expelling Baker was the only reasonable solution to the never-ending messages of concern coming from students and their parents. In such cases, educational institutions opt for a ‘better safe than sorry approach’ and would expel one student to avoid complaints from hundreds, even though the student did not do anything harmful and illegal.
Thus, was it right to expel the baker? No. However, it would have been wrong to ignore his stories and disregards all concerns expressed by the University’s students. The ethical dilemma that the University faced was solved in the favor of Baker’s classmate, who became the main character of his stories since there was no guarantee that Jake would not have fulfilled his fantasies as the time went on, especially since he expressed the desire to do something in his letter to the Canadian friend. This case is far more complicated to be solved by either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. The university chose the safety of its students over Baker’s freedom of expression, which is fully justified.
Was It Right to Make an Arrest?
To answer the question of whether Jake Baker did anything wrong, it is crucial to remember that the Federal law does not contain any policies regarding individuals who fantasize about rape or murder without fulfilling their fantasies. While writing detailed stories about how one is planning to torture a young woman and cause her severe pain is considered ethically wrong, it is not regarded as wrong from the legal point of view. The police reacted irrationally when arresting Baker since there was no evidence that he committed any wrongdoing for which arrest is justified. Moreover, such a move can be classified as breaching the concept of freedom of expression justified by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The Internet provides users with an opportunity to be explicit with their thoughts and opinions, allowing people like Baker to share even the most perverted fantasies without fear of being charged since the law cannot prevent people from freely expressing their thoughts in cases when they do not contain any direct threats to a victim. Even though Baker shared his violent fantasies through an email with Arthur Gonda, these were fantasies that did not result in any harmful actions. On the one hand, the choice of the University of Michigan to expel Baker can be regarded as justified because it was targeted at protecting the safety of Baker’s classmate. On the other hand, one cannot agree with the idea that his online actions deserved a prosecution.
What did play against Baker in this discussion was that in the early ’90s, forums and chatrooms were not properly monitored and used? Therefore, as law enforcement received many reports from concerned students regarding Baker’s intentions to harm another student, they had no other choice than to arrest Baker for further investigation. Because Baker exercised his First Amendment rights during defense, the prosecution did not have any arguments against a citizen’s right to express his thoughts, especially in the context of the under-researched medium of the Internet. With regards to this case, one issue remains open: while Baker was protected under the First Amendment when compiling his story, what protected his classmate from not becoming the main character in such a violence-riddled piece of fictional writing?
Brey, Philip. “Evaluating the Social and Cultural Implications of the Internet.” Computers and Society, vol. 36, no. 3, Fall 2006, pp. 41-48.
Lester, Toby. “The Reinvention of Privacy.” Blog Une Edu, Web.
Mackinnon, Catharine. Only Words. Harvard University Press, 1993.
Moor, James. “Just Consequentialism and Computing.” Ethics and Information Technology, vol.1, 1999, pp. 65-69.
The Ethical Spectacle. “Jake Baker.” Spectacle, Web.