Saturday, September 27, 2014

Another Kind of Bullying

We who read and/or write m/m romance and gay fiction -- in fact, the entire GLBTQ* community, allies included -- despise bullying. I don't need to explain why. But there's an insidious kind of bullying infesting the U.S. legal system: frivolously spiteful, vindictive lawsuits intended to harass, punish, and/or muffle disseminators of information.

By "information" I mean facts, not rumors or baseless allegations with a negative cast. We have libel and slander laws to protect us against the latter. Bogus information can be harmful; it can damage people's personal and business reputations, financial stability, and physical as well as psycho-emotional well-being. However, when accusations can be substantiated, when information can be verified, the disseminator is "guilty" of only one thing: telling the truth.

Some people fear the truth. It is their enemy. They're likely to cry "Witch hunt!" to deflect attention from their wrongdoing when the truth gets out. Yes, I know, persecution of innocents has indeed taken place throughout history, and far too often. Single words identify some of the more heinous examples: Inquisition, Salem, McCarthyism. But . . . making helpful information public is definitely not a "witch hunt." It's more akin to enlightenment.

I got to pondering these things when I found out a fairly large, prosperous publisher is suing a book blogger for defamation. A book blogger! Here is the offending post. Here is a copy of the complaint as filed. And here's the respondent's announcement of the suit. What I find most disturbing is the complainant's demand to know the identities of site visitors who commented anonymously. Why is this part of an already questionable action? WHY? My opinion: if this, too, doesn't smack of bullying -- an attempt to scare authors-under-contract into shutting up -- I don't know what else you'd call it. (We're still allowed opinions under the First Amendment, aren't we?)

I find the whole situation unconscionable and reprehensible.

Anyway, I got a hell of an education today as I followed relevant links. The more I read, the more I learned about: 1.) "vexatious litigants" (people/entities who continually, often groundlessly sue other people/entities, thereby making themselves a nuisance to the court system); 2.) anti-SLAPP statutes (from Wikipedia), "A strategic lawsuit against public participation [SLAPP] is a lawsuit ... intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition"); 3.) the Streisand Effect (from The Passive Voice), "the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet"; 4.) Chilling Effects (at Vacuous Minx). You can also find out more about these terms, and their RL ramifications, at The Digital Reader and Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

Some sobering stuff, dear friends, and all very cogently explained. I'm sure we've only seen the beginning of what promises to be an enormous public outcry. Streisand Effect, indeed. 

This whole mess has nothing to do with whether or not you like Dear Author. I, for one, rarely visit there anymore. Rather, all of us in the book world -- authors, readers, reviewers, bloggers -- should care about this particular form of bullying. Hell, all U.S. citizens should care, because it imperils a freedom we cherish: that of unfettered (within the realm of reason) expression. If we won't tolerate those who seek to ban books, we shouldn't tolerate fatcats within the publishing industry who seek to prevent scrutiny with threats of legal or other retaliatory action.

If you're wondering why I posted this, go back to the first paragraph. And remember: if you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything. I finally had to stand up.   


Tam said...

I do find it all a bit ass-backwards. If you are indeed doing everything by the book, and someone says you aren't paying authors, well all of your authors and staff would speak up and go "No. I'm fine. Everything is going well." You don't need to sue to prove it, it will come out that there is no basis for the accusations. HOWEVER that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, the opposite. People are stepping forward and going "yeah, I'm not getting paid either". Are all of those people lying in some grand conspiracy theory against EC? I kind of doubt that. But then, when people are backed into a corner, they tend to come out fighting, even if there is no hope in the end that they can defend their position.

As has been noted, this whole thing has simply stirred up even more interest in the topic than it did originally. I haven't bought an EC books in a few years, but the subject was interesting and having been caught up in the Silver demise (luckily got out before total implosion) I read with sympathy what other authors are going through, but now? Ohhhh. Now I want to know ALL the details. It's become the National Enquirer publishing story of the year. If there was no evidence, just pay your authors and let the story die. But... Yeah. What a waste of everyone's time and money.

K. Z. Snow said...

Good points, Tam. It really is a matter of common sense. (I'm more privy than most to what authors have been saying, 'cause I'm still part of their Yahoo group. Won't get into specifics, though; that would violate confidentiality.) But, yeah. People weren't leaping to EC's defense for ... reasons.

I hope all publishers learn from this. Secrecy and excuse-making followed by ill-advised lawsuits will not make up for years of bad decisions (and/or financial malfeasance, if such exists). Best to exercise square-dealing and transparency from the start.