A year ago, CBS 11 brought the world the tragic but ultimately hopeful story of Whitney Mitchell. The Dallas woman, 21 at the time, had been an aspiring dancer until sepsis took all four limbs when she was 18. She was learning to walk again with prosthetics and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.
Not everyone found her story heartwarming, as Mitchell soon learned from the Internet.
"Every now and then she'll Google her name," Mitchell's mother, Patricia Kirven, explains. Not out of vanity but because paraphiliacs, aka "devotees," will "steal her pictures, and they'll put them on these kind of amputee-porn sites."
Finding those was disturbing, but more upsetting to Mitchell and her mother was a post she found on Chimpmania.com.
If you're not familiar with Chimpmania, or if the name isn't sufficiently self-explanatory, its a web forum devoted to mocking African Americans in the most vile way imaginable. It's described here as a "hate site consisting of permabanned rejects from Niggermania and Chimpout."
The post that Mitchell stumbled upon, title "amputee wants legs to dance wiff," featured various screenshots from the CBS 11 story, crudely doctored to add watermelon, fried chicken, malt liquor and commentary that's mostly too vile to repeat.
Mitchell was distraught for a couple of days and remains upset, but she has mostly accepted it as an inevitable byproduct of the Internet.
Her mother, however, is still pissed.
"I just made it my mission to get that website taken down," Kirven says.
She scored a minor success early on when she notified Warner Brothers that her daughter's images had been placed into copyrighted images, one featuring Larry the Cable Guy, another a screenshot from the film Dolphin Tale. The original post was removed but was quickly replaced by one that was clean of copyright violations.
Kirven doesn't have a lot of options for getting that second post, much less the entire website, taken down.
The First Amendment offers broad protections to speech, even the type of invective spewed on Chimpmania. Supreme Court precedent holds that hate speech is permissible, so long as it doesn't directly incite lawless actions. Hurling racist insults at a quadruple amputee, while disturbing, doesn't seem to rise to that threshold. The lawyers Kirven has spoken with have told her as much.
Instead, Kirven is trying to rally enough of a public outcry that Cloudflare, the company that hosts Chimpmania, boots the site. So far, her Change.org petition has collected close to 22,000 signatures.
So far, the company hasn't responded.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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