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A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”), is a term used to describe defamation claims where the plaintiff’s ultimate goal is to intimidate the defendant. A certain Celebrity-centric religion, started by an ex-science fiction writer, is notorious for filing SLAPPs to dissuade former members and media outlets from criticizing their group.
Lately, large corporations are testing Internet law legal limits by filing questionable social media defamation lawsuits. Some people say these lawsuits are blatant “SLAPP” attempts; other folks think social media is a metastasizing tumor of defamation, and the problem needs to addressed by the courts.
What are SLAPP Lawsuits?
Coined in the 1980s by University of Denver professors Penelope Canan and George Pring, “strategic lawsuits against public participation” are cases filed for the sole purpose of mitigating negative press about a person or company.
In a way, SLAPPs are a form of legal bullying, because the ultimate goal is to burden the defendant with legal costs. Most plaintiffs, in these types of cases, count on the defendant eventually throwing in the towel to avoid a long, expensive legal battle.
What is Defamation?
People often threaten libel claims, but in many cases, the threats are impotent. Why? Because, in the U.S., free speech rights rule. In order to win a slander or libel lawsuit, plaintiffs must prove that:
- The statements in question were about them;
- The statements were published or broadcast to the public;
- The Statements under review caused material harm;
- The defendant acted with either gross negligence or actual malice.
Social Media: A Fertile Breeding Ground for Defamation Claims
Today, thanks to the Internet, people have ample opportunity to publish their opinions and ideas. A downside to all that: the number of Internet and social media defamation lawsuits are on the rise.
As we continue to explore Internet legal terrain, like net neutrality and online defamation, keep a sharp eye out for Internet defamation lawsuits. Your First Amendment rights may very well depend on the populace banding together to fight such actions.