The Sociology Of Comments

This is a follow-up to the “blogger sued for $20 million” story.

I’m fascinated by copy&paste comments, especially when the writer (a) disguises his/her identity and (b) supports questionable business practices. But comments can also provide a rich conversation and important facts and data — a “wisdom of the crowds” phenomena.

Here we go on the first point: the same comment was posted Wednesday at BlogHer (the member “just saying” created the account in order to post the comment – check the timestamps) and at MountainXpress (no account creation required here).

Do you think this is someone associated with the firm? Or simply a contrarian? What’s the motivation for attacking the business owner (“victim”)?

On the second point, I learned about a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) because of a comment on a related BlogHer post. From the First Amendment Center:

Generally, a “SLAPP” is a (1) civil complaint or counterclaim; (2) filed against individuals or organizations; (3) arising from their communications to government or speech on an issue of public interest or concern. SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, government officials and others against individuals and community groups who oppose them on issues of public concern. SLAPP filers frequently use lawsuits based on ordinary civil claims such as defamation, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, nuisance, interference with contract and/or economic advantage, as a means of transforming public debate into lawsuits.

Most SLAPPs are ultimately legally unsuccessful. While most SLAPPs lose in court, they “succeed” in the public arena. This is because defending a SLAPP, even when the legal defense is strong, requires a substantial investment of money, time, and resources. The resulting effect is a “chill” on public participation in, and open debate on, important public issues. This “chilling” effect is not limited to the SLAPP target(s): fearful of being the target of future litigation, others refrain from speaking on, or participating in, issues of public concern.

There’s more at SourceWatch: “We found that SLAPP targets who fight back seldom lose in court yet are frequently devastated and depoliticized and discourage others from speaking out–‘chilled’ in the parlance of First Amendment commentary.” And an example:

In Washington state, a homeowner found that she couldn’t get a mortgage because her real estate company had failed to pay taxes owed on her house. She uncovered hundreds of similar cases, and the company was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. In retaliation, it dragged her through six years of legal harassment before a jury finally found her innocent of slander.

IANAL, but I agree that the lawsuit filed in this case certainly sounds both frivolous and like a SLAPP. Here is some good strategic and tactical advice if you find yourself being sued for activist or political speech. But I think the nature of the lawsuit makes it even more imperative for Leslie to find a lawyer. Fast.

Written by Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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