In cases of online defamation, all too often Reputation Helper will see cases where plaintiffs have their legitimate libel complaint dismissed from court because it is judged to be a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP. Many of those who come to Reputation Helper seeking assistance against online libel are confused as to why their case would be considered a SLAPP, and they aren’t sure what they should do to succeed in court. So, why exactly would a judge deem a libel suit a SLAPP? How can victims avoid having genuine, well-intentioned complaints of internet libel thrown out of court as a SLAPP?
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are lawsuits filed by well-financed plaintiffs, such as corporations, celebrities, politicians, and others. The intention of those filing these lawsuits is not to win the case; rather, the plaintiff seeks to silence and censor critics through intimidation and by burdening the defendants with the high legal fees they will undoubtedly incur. The real goal of those bringing SLAPPs is to pressure the defendants to cease their publication of critical commentary or opposing viewpoints. This also has a chilling effect beyond the defendants – other current or future critics will be reluctant to express critical viewpoints for fear of legal retribution.
Preventing SLAPPs is certainly a noble goal, as they undoubtedly infringe on the defendants’ freedom of speech. States across the country have thus adopted anti-SLAPP legislation to protect legitimate critics engaged in the public debate. Most of these laws perform their function as intended, but some statutes may be interpreted by judges in a way that prevents genuine victims of internet libel campaigns from seeking redress through the civil court system. Further, when a case is dismissed as a SLAPP, the plaintiffs (in this case, the victims) are often ordered to pay the significant legal fees of the defendant.
Usually when a victim of internet libel has his or her case dismissed under anti-SLAPP laws, the reason is not a lack of credibility on the victim’s part, but rather a lack of preparation by the victim and his or her attorneys. Before bringing an internet libel case in front of a judge, prudent preparation is key to increasing the likelihood of success.
Many internet libel cases involve anonymous bloggers or commenters defaming the victim across dozens of websites. A great number of victims tend to believe that a court subpoena is the only way to uncover the identities of their attackers – this is far from the truth. Many private investigative firms can offer identification services of anonymous defamers before the case reaches the court system. This is valuable information when the victim and his or her lawyers present a case to a judge. The best internet libel specialists can uncover an attacker’s identity with a success rate of over 85%.
Another key preparatory measure that victims can take is preserving perishable evidence. Many internet service providers will not archive information about customers for longer than six months, sometimes leaving victims without crucial evidence against their online attackers. Preserving emails, websites, IP addresses, and more can greatly increase your success at putting an end to an online smear campaign.
If your case is rock-solid and meets the courts’ definition of libel, anti-SLAPP dismissals shouldn’t be a problem for you as a victim of online defamation. Make sure to consult a professional who can strengthen your position for either out-of-court settlements or civil litigation.