Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Brief Note on Legal Thuggery and the Silencing of Others

A friend of mine, we'll call him Mr. T, was recently the target of the negative attentions of a bully, we'll call him Mr. BS. You see, Mr. BS said some defamatory things about some people on twitter. Mr. T didn't take kindly to it (after all, he pities the fool that bullies others) and called Mr. BS on it, going so far as to write up a blog post, stating facts about the exchange, as well as some additional information about Mr. BS. This ruffled Mr. BS's feathers, but rather than doing what a normal person would do and contacting Mr. T privately to work out the disagreement, Mr. BS published Mr. T's work address, phone and e-mail address on Twitter and in the comments of a news article, as well as blast e-mailing just about everyone at Mr. T's place of employment, threatening law suits if Mr. T didn't back down.

Imagine for a moment a purveyor of health and science information. The don that controls things on his street comes by and tells him to pay up or he's gonna break some kneecaps. In the situation with Mr. T, the "payment" is to cease all use of social media on topics of public health and instead of breaking kneecaps, he stands to lose his job. Why such a strong reaction? Because Mr. T's overseers viewed Mr. BS's sabre rattling as enough of a nuisance that they just wanted to avoid any legal issues altogether, thinking Mr. BS more of a tiger, when in reality he's closer to a gnat.

This whole deal, if you haven't guessed by now, is #EpiGate. I've been debating whether or not to write about this for a while. Normally, I would have been all over this issue from the beginning, but a few things gave me pause. First, I didn't want to do something that would make things worse for Mr. T's work situation. He's a good guy. I like him. He's a tremendous educator and advocate for public health. It's bad enough that the muckymucks at his place of employment put the kibosh on his online activities, I didn't want to do something that would risk him losing his job altogether. Second, at first I was nervous of what Mr. BS might try, since he has also rattled his sabre in my direction, though I've yet to do anything that would give him any legal claims whatsoever. Primarily, I was concerned that he might try to find out who I am and blast e-mail others connected with me. After talking it over with some others and taking a look at applicable laws in my location, I find that I have some good support, so my worries have been largely quelled.

At any rate, I'm not going to dwell on things. I just wanted to let people know why I've been quiet on this and just voice my feelings about how I think Mr. T's employer is, quite frankly, doing exactly the wrong thing. They should support and laud him for what he does to progress public health and educate others. A lot of other people have already said much of what I would have said on the issue, and Liz Ditz, as always, has the round-up of other posts. I strongly encourage my readers to start with her post; specifically, read the comments in which this person outs himself for an indication of his character.

Should anyone feel like commenting here, I have a few rules:
  1. No name-calling.
  2. No swearing.
  3. No publishing personally identifiable information or contact info of others.
  4. Please DO NOT contact my friend's employer, as it would only make matters worse for him.
  5. No linking to Google caches of any deleted blog posts, etc. If you want to find these things, you can search for yourself.
  6. Try to avoid making statements that are untrue and may be grounds for a libel case, even if only in the fevered imaginings of the deranged. I would hate for my readers to be drawn into litigation with Mr. BS, even on meritless claims, and I would prefer not to have myself or my blog drawn into any litigation. Please do not make me regret writing about this issue.
Any comments which violate these rules will be removed. Because of Mr. BS's nature as exhibited on just about every post covering #EpiGate, I am taking measures which I am loathe to enact, since I value free speech very highly. However, I can also understand what a determined individual can do if they are intent on silencing others through the use of things like SLAPP suits. I also encourage people to keep these rules in mind when commenting on other sites.

Finally, if Mr. BS happens to read this, let me simply say that anything I have written is my opinion and mine alone. I do not represent myself as an agent of any other person or organization. Just as I am respecting you by not contacting people or organizations connected with you, I request the same. I believe it best for all involved that you let the matter drop, since persisting with the subject is only having the effect of generating more and more posts about it and ultimately tanks your image even more. Further, I do not believe that any of my comments in this post have been defamatory; if you feel otherwise, please state which specific statements of mine you think are defamatory and the reason and I will review what I have said.

Thank you all, and Mr. T, I hope the individuals responsible for gagging you read all of the supportive comments that have been written and come to realize the errors of their ways.

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