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Shut Up, Explained the Businessman: How Consumers Like You Get SLAPPed Down

Free market groups support Federal SPEAK FREE Act opposing "strategic lawsuits against public participation"

SLAPPvansky.comChecking out the online reviews of an unfamiliar company's product or service before you buy is now a reflex for most of us. A quick click over to Yelp, Angie's List, TripAdvisor, and Yahoo Local Listings let's you know what other customers think of their experiences with the businesses and service providers from which you're thinking to make a purchase. And we've all become adept at figuring out when a online rater is just a whiny complaint-monger and when she is fairly describing her experience.

Businesses that get low ratings can do two things: Fix the problem or try to shut up the critical customers. In the second case, some companies have taken to filing lawsuits that claim their online critic has "defamed" them and demand that the rating be taken down. Such meritless lawsuits have come to be called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs. The goal of a SLAPP is to intimidate people who disagree with the filer and cause them financial pain through legal fees required to defend against the lawsuits. All too often SLAPPs are effective as relatively penurious critics agree to apologize for or "correct" their earlier evaluations in order to avoid the hassles and costs of defending themselves in court.

In an effort to fix this abuse of legal process, a bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives has introduced the Securing Participation, Engagement, and Knowledge Freedom by Reducing Egregious Efforts Act or the SPEAK FREE Act. The Act would allow a person who is SLAPPed to file a special motion to dismiss such lawsuits and collect legal fees from the person or entity that filed the initial SLAPP.

Representatives from eight free market, pro-consumer groups just sent today a letter in support of the SPEAK FREE Act to the House Judiciary Committee. The groups involved include the R Street Institute, FreedomWorks, the Center for Individual Freedom, Tech Freedom, the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, the Niskanen Center, the Insitute for Liberty, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The letter points out "multitudes of Americans fall victim to lawsuits called SLAPPs ... that are aimed at unfairly intimidating and silencing them." The letter observes that online reviews are an important facet of the digital economy that helps to give consumers confidence to deal with unfamiliar businesses. "Unfortunately, online reviews increasingly are targeted by SLAPPs, as unscrupulous businessmen seek to censor their critics, rather than working to improve the experiences, products, or services they offer," they note.

Free speech is a bulwark against both government and private abuses. Citizens should not be afraid to speak their minds on any topic. SLAPPs need to be slapped down sooner rather than later. 

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  • Illocust||

    Seems fairly straightforward and good. Plus defamation lawsuits are practically impossible to prove anyways, so none of us are losing anything.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The goal of a SLAPP is to intimidate people who disagree with the filer and cause them financial pain through legal fees required to defend against the lawsuits.

    The process is the punishment.

  • DenverJ||

    SLAPP a ho?

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    Wonder what Popehat thinks of the proposal. He's been pushing for a federal anti-SLAPP law, and critical of state efforts that don't do much.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    I don't wonder, when you can't even punctuate your reply well. Who'd want your ugly shit on there?

    Oh, and [citation needed].

  • A Cynic's Guide to Zen||

    I have never understood the way the courts view frivolous lawsuits in the U.S.

    1) Attorney's fees are rarely available to defendant in a frivolous lawsuit case.
    2) There is no penalty nor remedy to the accused for the filing frivolous lawsuits against a defendant.
    3) There is not an ethical violation on the part of the plaintiff's attorney when a case is ruled as frivolous.
    4) Claimants who file frivolous lawsuits are often dismissed without prejudice in order to give idiot claimants a chance to perfect their claims "in the interests of justice."

    Arguably, the plaintiff filing frivolous lawsuits is wasting money, but defending isn't free as the article mentioned, and it becomes an involuntary slow burn for the accused.

    I have always maintained that testifying falsely, claiming a frivolous claim, or providing false evidence should bear a cost; in the case of false rape claims, I believe a misdemeanor is in order, something to go on the record so the next time, the false victim who cried rape can be shown to be less credible than average.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    At the very least, losers should pay all costs -- court, case, time off from work , travel expenses, everything the winner spent.

    But I also think there's a strong case to make for frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits and criminal charges boomeranging on the accuser -- if you frame somebody for murder, you are guilty of murder. If you file bogus charges for contract violations, DMCA takedowns, etc, the amount you filed for comes out of your hide too, in addition to the loser pays amount.

    It's also how I would handle warrants. Let any party to a case file whatever warrants they want, subject to appeal for being irrelevant, too broad, etc. But primarily, if you execute a warrant before appeals complete, or if you lose your case, then your warrants rebound on you -- the warrant target gets to search your house in the same manner you searched theirs, arrest you in the same public manner and detain you for just as long, freeze your assets just as long. Most false targets would accept cash in lieu of literal rebounding, but the humiliating aspects and the life-disrupting aspects would command a high price indeed. It would especially make abusive cops and prosecutors think twice.

  • A Cynic's Guide to Zen||

    I don't know if I would put Federal Agents or State Agents (executors of warrants) in the same category as frivolous civil claimants. The State and Federal agents executing bad warrants implicates the Constitution; a civil litigant who files falsely to harass is a different matter altogether. In the instance of a conviction of perjury, the perjurer cannot testify in court for the remainder of their life. While I would be opposed to barring an individual from filing a claim, I am not opposed to fining an individual for filing a false claim; perhaps even mandatory community service so the cost of harassment is felt.

    Furthermore, civil asset forfeiture (which I think is illegal), does not directly benefit the individual officers in their civilian capacity, so the Hammurabian "eye for eye" justice you believe would be extricated from those officers would not exist in the first place. They will say, "Hey man, I am just following orders."

    Lastly, I was trying to argue this OT, but I don't believe placing the burden of consequence on a Federal or State Officer a priori holds with the strongest tenet of our legal system; Innocent until PROVEN guilty.

    But to show solidarity with the apparent anti-policing/pigs are pigs sentiments in these threads, COPS SUXS.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    Not sure what you mean. I of course expect innocent until proven guilty; but if teh course of a trial shows the accuser was making it all up, or the jury decides that evidence was forged or witnesses were lying, that's a good start at least. Same with warrants: if you write or execute a warrant and are later shown to have made up your reasons or to have exceeded its scope, what more proof is needed?

    I make no exceptions for government offenders. They are the worst of the bunch, because when they abuse their authority to make stuff up, they have the practically unlimited resources of the government at their back. They must be held to higher standards than mere civilians, as with Caesar's wife.

    And no finger pointing to dilute accountability. If you execute a warrant, or write one, with which you have doubts, then you should suffer the consequences. If your boss says he will accept the blame, then go ahead and execute, but that blame shifting must be valid, and the boss must suffer the consequences.

    When accountability exceeds authority, you have scapegoats. When authority exceeds accountability, you have corruption.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Free speech is a bulwark against both government and private abuses.

    that's why it needs to be contained.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    So, does this mean we will get an article on Michael Mann SLAPPing Mark Steyn for calling his hockey stick a fabrication? Or is he too icky?

  • Marshall Gill||

    No, not a word about Steyn from "Free minds and Free markets". Ron might quote Mann as an authority somewhere but that is a close as it gets.

    Principals, not principles.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    I did a search, and there was three-sentence news in 24/7 in 2012 about it. Not a peep since. Too icky.

  • Ron Bailey||

    Folks: WaPo says Steyn not appealing anti-SLAPP suit. Apparently he wants to go to trial. In any case, the process has been pretty damned slow, so bit of patience please.

  • Horatio||

    Fine being patient, but it looks awful when your comment represents nearly the entirety of reason's reporting on it.

  • Marshall Gill||

    In any case, the process has been pretty damned slow, so bit of patience please.

    Ron, I used to have a modicum of respect for you. No more. This has been going on for over 4 years! Fly to Paris and then go and fuck yourself.

  • ATXChappy||

    I personally think that comprehensive 'looser pays' legislation would be much better. That's essentially what this is but it only addresses these SLAPP suits. An across the board 'looser pays' system might help out with some of the other frivolous suits such as copyright, patten, ADA, and a whole host of other areas of civil law that get tons of abuse.

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