Future of social media SLAPPs

I think of myself as a good friend. I listen to my friends when they need to vent about bad experiences with a rude restaurant server or business that has wronged them. After all, that’s what friends are for. As a go-to solution, I tell them to write a review on Yelp or tweet about it.

Recently, The New York Times profiled Justin Kurtz, 21, who started a Facebook page called “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing.” Kurtz was angry about his experience with this towing company and shared his negative experience with his Facebook friends. The towing company replied back with a defamation suit, claiming Kurtz’s Facebook page was hurting the business.

Lawsuits like these are known as SLAPPs — or  strategic lawsuits against public participation — and they work to censor and silence consumers with the burden of legal fees.

Kurtz did what I advise my family and friends to do every time they have a not-so-pleasant experience. Some may call it First Amendment rights of free speech, but business owners, who don’t want their livelihoods negatively affected by cyberspace, are responding with defamation suits.

This year another defamation suit was allowed in a California courtroom over Craigslist comments. An attorney filed a defamation suit claiming his business was suffering due to the comments. 

These businesses are fighting for their reputation and name, and in the eyes of the court, these comments or reviews cannot be made with the intention to shut the business down. 

Undoubtedly, the Facebook statuses that get the most comments are the ones that stem from a strong feelings — usually anger. But most people who use cyberspace and social media websites to voice their bad experiences probably don’t want to see these businesses close their doors. Angry customers just need somewhere to vent. They want to make certain others don’t have the same encounter. I believe they’re helping the world.

I’m not sure if scaring people with defamation suits will work. Social media users will still post, tweet and comment — especially the angry ones. Social media was intended to be an open forum. And so far, 26 states have passed anti-SLAPP laws, which will help wrongly-sued defendants recover legal fees. 

We’ll see how many angry consumers and tweeters will be made an example of with SLAPPs. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to watch what guidelines and privacy rules are instituted for social media sites as more business defamation cases pop up. 

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