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16 September 2015 at 12:18:35 PM
“Technology has enabled anyone to become an online journalist, editor, town crier, or anonymous pamphleteer,” explain the professors, pointing to online review sites, which have often been the target of frivolous or misguided legal actions by companies looking to quiet critics merely for speaking up.
“But when those speakers face legal challenges to exercising their free speech rights, they face a serious dilemma,” continues the letter, “they can stand by their speech and risk financially ruinous legal defense costs, or they can try to avoid litigation at any cost by shutting up, even when the demands are clearly retaliatory or improper attempts by a plaintiff to silence critics and intimidate other Internet users from speaking up.”
More on the Speak Free Act of 2015
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, are lawsuits used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend time and money to defend these meritless suits. SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice. Rather, SLAPPs are intended to intimidate those who disagree with the SLAPP filer by draining the target’s financial resources. SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend. To end or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on issues of public interest frequently agree to muzzle themselves, apologize, or “correct” statements.
Every American, from consumers reviewing the services of a merchant online, to reporters revealing information that some would rather see kept quiet, to citizens speaking out against a development in their community, are potential targets of a SLAPP suit. The Internet age has encouraged and grown citizen participation in democracy through self-publishing, citizen journalism and other forms of speech online. Unfortunately, abuses of the legal system, aimed at silencing these citizens, have also grown. As PPP Board Member Eric Goldman, who is a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Co-Director of the High Tech Law Institute, points out:
Society benefits when consumers share their critical consumer reviews and social media complaints, but those negative comments often trigger strongly-worded legal threats. Anti-SLAPP laws tell consumers that they can ignore bullying tactics, which helps keep this socially important content from being scrubbed from the Internet.
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