It’s a shame that outspoken bloggers have to have lawyers at their disposal because of threats to take down pieces critical of some charlatan. This week, there is a new push to support anti-SLAPP lawsuits.
Last week, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the SPEAK FREE Act of 2015, an effort at a federal anti-SLAPP act.[…] an anti-SLAPP act gives defendants sued for their speech a procedural mechanism to get rid of the case early and recover attorney fees if the plaintiff can’t produce evidence showing the case has merit. It has a substantial deterrent effect on frivolous lawsuits aimed at speech, and makes it substantially easier and cheaper to defend against them.
A more personal message comes from Dr. Steve Novella who is a party in a frivolous suit:
Except for those few states with effective anti-SLAPP laws (California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Texas and the District of Columbia – Florida just passed one which has not yet gone into effect), if you refuse to remove your free speech and you get sued, then expect to spend large sums of money and years of your life defending your rights. Here’s the thing – even if the case against you has zero merit and no chance of winning in the end, the lawsuit is a financial game of chicken. There is no way to shut the case down early. There is no bar for meritless cases.
The net effect of this is that if someone has money they can shut down your free speech at will. This, of course, has a chilling effect on free speech that can go way beyond the one instance of speech being targeted.
This is an important issue for all Americans. It is especially important for media companies and anyone whose business or activism requires speech. This includes the skeptical movement – we are basically involved in critical analysis of claims and practices. People don’t like critical analysis when they find themselves on the negative side.
Of course, they are free to answer the criticism, to level criticisms of their own, to make their case, present their evidence, and let open discourse sort things out. This is the public marketplace of ideas, and the framers of the Constitution knew how important it was. Some people, however, would rather just sue you into silence.
Successful anti-SLAPP actions include that of Brian Deer against anti-vax prince Andrew Wakefield. That was in Texas. And Popehat also details a pro bono case that went in the blogger’s favor here. Novella calls on all of us to support effective anti-SLAPP laws in every state and at the federal level. It isn’t a perfect solution but it’s a huge step forward in preventing bloggers in the public interest from being bullied by scam artists who don’t have facts and evidence on their side that they must resort to legal action.
We urgently need anti-SLAPP laws in the US, at the federal level and in every state. This should be one of the top priorities of the skeptical movement, as our very existence is threatened by frivolous SLAPP suits.
GET INVOLVED! Go here and contact your representative. It’s a long weekend, plan to do it then and stick to it. I am. We’ve been threatened by nonsense legal threats by several people when they had NO case whatsoever. This act can make a huge difference.