I am perplexed, and have decided to post my thoughts about this confound:
Recently, I discovered that a friend had been victimized online by another individual with defamatory comments — comments which directly places my friend into danger. Concerned, I wrote the website upon which the perpetrator posted and requested that they remove the post as it certainly violated the terms of using their website. Approximately 10-14 days later, the website’s attorney wrote back — indicating that, regardless of these defamatory and false comments and the real danger that could ensue from the comments (accompanied by images of my friend) that the website would not remove them. The other attorney seemed to make light of the serious nature of these postings.
However, there is nothing funny about the postings; rather, a good person is having his reputation dragged through the mud, and — as a result of that occurring (I cannot provide further details) my friend’s security is now directly endangered. The proverbial line has certainly been crossed between free expression and its limits.
I embrace my role as a First Amendment advocate, and one who has worked hand-in-hand with the ACLU for several years. Notwithstanding, I believe that there are limits — these limits have been articulated in case law stemming back over the past 75 years — including when the speech delivers “a clear and present danger” to public health and safety, and when speech rises to the level of being defamatory. I believe that my friend’s situation applies to the latter situation.
Ironically, it now appears that the same opposing attorney who defended his website client’s prerogative of leaving its user’s defamatory comments up (regardless of the violation of that site’s contractual terms), is now — himself — falling prey to the rather virulent comments of someone else in the blogosphere. And, “no,” I am refraining from having anything to do with this situation. Notwithstanding how some might view this twist as being a form of “poetic justice,” I believe that anyone who is subjected to targeting by another to a degree where it endangers the reputation of a professional, as well as that individual’s personal safety, warrants extraordinary sympathy.
However, one question lingers: is the opposing attorney who so starkly and unsympathetically chastised my friend’s situation and the real impact of the defamation besetting my friend, sitting back and allowing his own reputation to be besmirched? Or, rather, is he taking real measures to battle back against something that he would otherwise have categorized as complete and unfettered free speech by his rhetorical foe? If the latter, perhaps depending upon the means adopted to ‘fight back,’ does it then constitute some form of hypocrisy? I will leave that question unanswered.