Redskins Owner Dan Snyder Sues Critic: Streisand Effect, Anyone?

In a suit filed yesterday, Washington Redskins owner Dan “Chainsaw” Snyder has accused the Washington City Paper of libel and defamation and asked for $2 million. This is the worst move he could have made.

Relatively few people had read the article, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” written by Dave McKenna and published on November 19, 2010. It’s a local, alternative weekly paper with circulation of maybe 100,000 on a good week. I love football commentary in general and mockery of Dan Snyder in particular, and even had I picked up the paper or found the link at the time, I would have skimmed it at best.

Now, everybody’s reading it. Judging by the slow load times, I’d venture to say the paper’s website is getting orders of magnitude more traffic than it’s designed for. I read the full article in detail, as well as the publisher’s eloquent response to the lawsuit. I have long since adopted Gregg Easterbrook’s derisive moniker for the meddling football owner, “Chainsaw” Dan Snyder, and even I had no idea how many truly scummy things Snyder has done. Now I have the man’s entire list of foibles in one centralized location. Thanks, Chainsaw Dan!

Snyder clearly has no idea how the media works in general and how the internet works in particular. This is a fantastic example of the Streisand Effect. Snyder wanted the article to go away; instead, he’s helped bring national attention, ensuring that millions more know about his shameful past behavior.

Snyder also has no understanding of First Amendment case law, and his law firm’s willful ignorance on this count is reprehensible. Read the City Paper’s lawyer’s letter to Snyder’s legal team, which is a brief, well-written, and legally sound “Go to Hell.” I hope the judge dismisses the filing as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit and awards attorneys’ fees (and maybe even damages) to the City Paper.

In addition to accusations based on the article itself, the suit also includes as a basis for action the photograph accompanying the article–an ordinary photo of Snyder, defaced with ballpoint pen-style sketching of bushy eyebrows, a mustache, a pointed goatee, and horns. The style is much like one might find on a subway billboard or in a high school yearbook. As part of the allegation of defamation, the suit claims that this photo is “a blatantly anti-Semitic” depiction of Mr. Snyder, “precisely the type of imagery used historically, including in Nazi Germany, to dehumanize and vilify the Jewish people and associate them with a litany of libels over the last 2,000 years” (p. 6).

Snyder has hit Godwin’s Law at a record pace. The paper specifically addresses the accusation of antisemitism here. Many of the paper’s employees are Jewish, “including staffers who edited the story and designed the cover,” and they certainly didn’t intend or see the drawing as antisemitic.

Also, I find the allegation in the context of this particular legal filing to be deeply troubling. There is no basis in law for suing somebody for deriding a public figure’s religion. We could debate the merits of this until the cows come home, but it’s a policy decision our society has made, and lawsuits have to be structured by current law. Thus, including an allegation of religious intolerance is more than irrelevant; it’s willfully incendiary. The goal is presumably to get the court and the public to hold a prejudicial opinion of the defendants before the matter is even heard before the court.

This lawsuit shows that “Chainsaw” Dan Snyder is even worse at managing his public image and understanding the First Amendment than he is at running an NFL franchise. Which is really saying something.

P.S. Here’s an awesome, heartfelt thank you to Snyder from Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten—a lifelong New York Giants fan. To whit:

I know you are taking some criticism today from carping media types. They seem to think that you are not only behaving like a petty, vindictive bully but also that you are being strategically stupid – by bringing a vast new audience to a three-month-old, otherwise-obscure alternative-media piece, which can be found here.

Amen!

Technical Study of the Internet Shutdown in Burma

The Open Net Initiative has just produced a brief technical study of the Burmese government’s internet censorship, including a complete shutdown from September 29 through October 4.

Allow me to spoil the report’s ending for you:

While the [Burmese government] has exacerbated its legacy of massive human rights violations through this crackdown, many believe that the breakthrough uses of the Internet over this period have enabled some irreversible gains. Multiple generations of Burmese living locally and abroad have found linkages to each other as blogging became increasingly recognized as a valuable source of information. One Burmese leader characterizes this gain as the forging of a link between the leaders of the generation that participated in [the 1988 student-led democratic movement], many of whom were jailed or exiled, and the new generation of activists in Burma.

Burmese netizens, operating in a constrained and challenging space in a country with especially low Internet penetration rates, have demonstrated that the tools of information technology can have a strong impact on the global coverage of events as they are unfolding, and sometimes on the events themselves. The events in Burma also provide a chilling example of the limitations of the Internet, access to which was ultimately vulnerable to the unilateral choices of a repressive regime. However, even the vast majority of Burmese without access to or knowledge of the Internet may have benefited from the enduring achievement of a small band of citizen bloggers and journalists—the uploading of vital, relevant information to the Internet was broadcast back in via television and radio and spread through personal networks and communities throughout the country.

In 1988, the government killed 3,000 protesters, and the activists had little recourse to communicate their message to the outside world. Now, disturbing images, like this footage of the murder of a Japanese photographer, are seen around the globe.

This makes the study of American internet politics seem downright frivolous.

House Reporter Shield Bill Excludes Amateurs

As mourned at the Citizen Media Law Project, the final House version of the bill (HR 2102) to protect reporters from revealing confidential sources was amended specifically to exclude unpaid journalists.

Sadly, this amendment was proposed by the bill’s lead authors, Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN). Boucher is generally one of the few members of Congress who “gets it” when it comes to tech policy. I suspect other members pushed him on this, but the final vote (398 to 21) suggests it may not have been a necessary compromise.

Could there be better proof that politicians do not take the internet seriously? Bloggers investigate and break real news, and some very good ones do it for free. I am skeptical the Senate will force the issue in conference committee.

copyright and censorship

Bill has an excellent post on the RIAA peer-to-peer trial, so I am only going to add the following comparison as food for thought. The U.S. being the land of the freedom, and China being the authoritarian country that censors its media – how come the case of the Minnesota woman being fined $220,000 for uploading 24 songs reminds me so much of the Chinese proverb “Killing The Chicken To Scare the Monkey“? The RIAA and the Chinese government make for some strange bedfellows ..