January and February were arduous months both personally and professionally. Sometimes when life gets busy, it gets very busy. I am back and of course I am always fielding questions on Internet Law, and now other areas of law as well. I am also going to continue doing my editorial content for this blog. So if you have any questions, or would like to contribute, feel free to let me know. Also visit Skyles Law Group’s website at http://www.skyleslaw.com if you have a legal need that needs to be addressed.
For our readers from across the pond, you may already be familiar with this story. Recently a nine-year-old Scottish girl was forced by her school to stop posting less-than-flattering pictures of the school’s cafeteria food on her blog. You can read the whole story here and here.
Now the school has since reversed its position on the matter but nine-year-old Martha Payne is no longer snapping pictures or posting on her blog. She is able to as a matter of policy according to the school, but that does not change the fact that she has opted not to continue for the time being. One can only assume she reached this decision because of all the hassle the school put her through. If you really think about it, all she was doing was taking pictures of what a bunch of kids were being served at lunch (most of the meals looked better than the “food” I was served when I was in grade school). If simple transparency such as this is problematic for a school, then that school has much larger fish to fry. But what is really scary is how quickly and soundly an institution which is supposed to be all about education and sharing information, can put the kibosh on free speech. Judging by the time stamps on the posts, Martha was not even making these posts while at school but the school still felt that it had the authority to quell the speech anyway. This brings the chilling factor to a new level; a school limiting the freedom of speech of its students while the students are outside of school grounds.
Now this happened in the UK and they have a different version of freedom of speech in Great Britain but this kind of thing could easily make its way over here. Currently, freedom of speech both on and off school grounds in the US is being limited by schools under the guise of anti-bullying (story via Forbes.com). This subject garnered even more notoriety when a Rutgers student committed suicide after an incident of alleged bullying involving a web-cam (The Story of Tyler Clementi). Legislation that has allowed for the curtailing of expression by schools has come under some fire lately but seems to have been embraced by many of the statehouses across the United States in one form or another (all but Montana actually). Federal legislation was even introduced but it quickly stalled.
These two concepts may seem rather disconnected but they really aren’t, both stories center around the issue of freedom of expression versus freedom from harassment. On the one hand, we have an interest in protecting students and faculty from harassment but we also have a duty to uphold the First Amendment rights of those same folks. Schools are a place where students are supposed to learn to be civic-minded members of society but they are also a place where they need to be safe as well. This leads to a precarious balancing act which these two stories exemplify quite nicely (I think). In the blogger case, we have a student who is simply posting pictures of cafeteria food, she is doing nothing to put anyone in danger, she is not harassing anyone (unless the headmaster getting phone calls from outraged parents for serving their lil angels crappy food qualifies). On the other side of the fence (barely), we have a student actively bullying another with potentially disastrous consequences (the only consequence for Martha’s blog? Better food @ school). So this begs the question “where do we draw the line?” We sure don’t want to go as far as the Scottish school and actively cut off creative talent but we also don’t want kids tossing themselves off bridges because of some online slur against them. I don’t pretend to have an answer to this question but it is one we need to constantly ask ourselves and discuss or otherwise we will be at the point where we punish little Marthas before we know what hit us. So let’s heed a tale from across the pond and watch carefully where we step.
The best understanding of toeing this line that I have seen came out of the First Amendment Center earlier this year and can be found here.
Last month I wrote a blog post about Georgia Democratic Party Official Rashad Richey suing blogger Andre Walker for defamation. Andre Walker is a former democratic official, turned conservative blogger who writes for Georgia Unfiltered. I wrote that essentially Richey had no case against Walker and that the entire purpose of the case was to intimidate Richey.
The advice I give to anyone in this situation is don’t panic, and Call Me. Most of the time it is a nothing case, and that the best thing you can do is not be intimidated by meaningless threats. I applaud Andre for not backing down and defending his first amendment rights.
A few days ago I wrote about the case of Andre Walker, who is being sued for defamation by Georgia Democratic Party Political Director, Ali Rashad Richey. In the post I mentioned how the causes of action were pretty much moot from the beginning, and how the purpose of the lawsuit was not to win, but merely to silence Walker.
Today, Ask a Cyber Lawyer received a copy of a letter from Walker’s attorney to Richey’s attorney, which both responds to the claims made, and demand to withdraw the complaint, or else Walker will proceed with a claim under the Geogia Abusive Litigation Act. O.G.G.A. §51-7-80 et seq. The full text of the letter is below:
When you are threatened by a corporate entity, a political party, or a government body, for items posted on your blog. Do not panic. Contact an attorney (preferably Skyles Law Group) and you will be taken care of. Make sure that they not only lose, but that they are hurt in the process. Andre has not backed down. He is continuing to voice his opinion. His work can be seen at Georgia Unfiltered.