Further to the reading and examination of this article I have consulted with two firms of solicitors that deal with defamation cases.
Both agree that there are definite cases of libel involving both the Block Bot and the GG Autoblocker, both however recommend taking the Data Protection route as a cheaper, easier, faster way to pursue recourse. Another option for those in the UK is the Small Claims Court which allows claims of damages up to a maximum value of £3,000 (this will cost £100 to file) and which usually go to the complainant if they are uncontested. Whether you’d ever see those damage from someone like Randi Harper or Oolon is another matter entirely, but at least you would have the court system on your side from that point onwards.
I have been loathe to taken action previously when I have been slandered and libelled because I consider the rough and tumble of the internet to mostly be insignificant and not worth making a fuss over. However, after 8+ months of this kind of treatment and the constant dredging up of old libellous statements against and about me I have reached the end of my tether.
One must also consider the problems these block bots have been causing in defusing situations, encouraging useful debate, creating dangerous echo chambers and libelling thousands of people all at once. The spread of this ‘tool’ is greatly concerning to people like myself who believe in the power of discourse and free expression.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with blocking and muting people. There is something wrong about writing people off, sight unseen, and accusing thousands of people of being trolls, harassers, bigots etc without proper consideration.
Below is a redacted version of the Letter of Claim I sent to the GGautoblocker site, this references UK & EU law so others will need to consult locally for legal advice. I would advise other UK people on either block list to use this as a template to make their own claims, but note that as of this morning the Block Bot checker appears to be down.
If you require further advice or the contact information for solicitors specialising in online defamation, you can call the Law Society (UK) on 0207 2421222
Please find attached my letter of claim as advised by my solicitors. Whatever our disagreements I believe strongly in the principle of free expression and would rather not pursue you through the courts.
Harassment and trolling are important online issues and do need innovative solutions. However, smearing a consumer movement as a whole and individuals in particular with such a crude and poorly thought-out measure is worse than the pre-existing solutions.
I look forward to your formal reply and proposal for remedy within the next 14 days.
[Your Name Here]
Letter of Claim
[Contact Information – You will have to doxx yourself]
Regarding your defamatory internet posts and publications:
I am contacting you in connection with the identification and pursuit of identified instances of libellous statements made across the internet.
I have been made aware of defamatory statements made on behalf of you and your organisation on your website and in association with your automated Twitter blocking system.
Examples of defamatory statements include but are not limited to:
- Repeated accusations of harassment.
- Describing Gamergate and those blocked on your list through association as a ‘hate group’.
- Describing Gamergate and those blocked on your list as ‘harassing women for sport’.
I have evidence to prove that the block list and the website associated with it contains or implies serious, untrue and highly defamatory comments towards myself and thousands of others. In doing so defamatory comments and reputational damage are being communicated to many thousands of people throughout the world, posing a serious threat to my reputation and those who work with me.
Further, these comments and the language used in the code and the website do or have seemed designed to damage my reputatio, and those of thousands of others, and to divert business away from me – rather than to have any fair comment basis.
There are also possible issues relating to UK/EU data protection law and its export from the EU in breach of the data protection act.
Under the law of England and Wales, a defamatory statement is one which tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally (Sim v Stretch  2 All ER 1237). The words are defamatory, identify or refer to the claimant and are published by yourselves to third parties.
The relevant data protection issues can be found in the Data Protection Act ( Schedule1).
In order to protect my interests I am considering proceedings against you in the Small Claims or High Court. These proceedings would seek remedies including but not limited to the following:
- Substantial damages;
- an injunction to restrain you from publishing the same or similar statements in the future; and
A defamatory statement is published at the place where it is read, heard or seen, and is not where the material was first placed on the internet. In internet cases, therefore, provided a small number of people have access to the material on the internet in England, the English courts will have jurisdiction to hear the claim against a foreign defendant (Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd  A.C. 460).
I am not against freedom of speech and recognise the value of fair comment. Indeed, this is at the root of my objections to tools such as block bots. At this I have no desire to issue legal proceedings against the operators and the Website and I am keen to do all I can to avoid litigation where possible.
However, in accordance with the pre-action protocol for defamation, I will desist from issuing legal proceedings provided within 14 days of the date of this letter you agree to do the following:
- remove from publication in their entirety the defamatory statements to prevent harm to my business;
- produce an apology and a declaration that the allegations referred to are false and defamatory and cause such apology and declaration to be published on your website (such apology to be approved by me prior to publication);
- remove my entry on your block list.
- make proposals for the payment to me of damages for the harm caused to my reputation; and business – or perhaps a donation to a mutually agreed upon charity in lieu of damages.
- undertake to actively monitor and delete any newly published defamatory content relating to me.
If the defamatory material is not permanently removed and the above undertakings are not complied with by 4.00pm GMT on 31/03/2015 I shall review the circumstances and consider proceeding to court.
I draw to your attention the terms of Section 2 of the Defamation Act 1996, under which you have the right to offer to make amends, which I will consider fairly.
I await your response. In the meantime I reserve my rights, in particular the right to produce this letter to the Court when it comes to consider costs under CPR 44.3.
I have had a response from Oolon (James Billingham) and it seems I shall have to seriously consider taking it to the next stage. I record it here for sake of having a complete record.
Your email and “claim” has been passed to Hampshire police as evidence against Sam Smith in his harassment campaign against me. I suggest you get some real advice, rather than a “solicitor” find an actual solicitor to make any further contact. Any further correspondence will be reported to the police as harassment. Sam Smith might want to share his own correspondence with head of litigation at Prieskel & Co … It might explain why he dropped his “legal claim”.
Personally I do not see how contacting him to try and sort out a redress of grievances can be termed harassment. Nor do I see why two pro-bono consultations with legal representation requires ‘scare quotes’. I have replied purely to confirm that he is not going to take any steps to correct the issue.
He did not provide contact information of any sort so it appears I may have to send a hardcopy of the letter to his place of work. Just to be absolutely certain. Something I hoped to avoid.
Despite his bluster, the Block Bot appears to have made a series of updates to its pages and also appears to have removed the Block Bot checker tool, which was the thing that came up with the reasons you were on the block list (mine included ‘MRA’, ‘Atheist’, ‘Writer’, ‘RPG’ and more seriously, ‘rape apologist’ etc – the actionable parts.
With the defamatory search results removed and the wording on the pages changed, I’m actually fairly happy and provided nothing slips back I won’t pursue that matter any further.
The GG autoblocker is another matter. Harper has put out a defiant message and nothing has changed. I have reached out to her to have a conversation on her terms in hopes of getting some movement and understanding, but I don’t hold out much hope. There are other, neutral parties also seeking to talk to Harper about improving, softening or otherwise dealing with the GG autoblocker issues and the good changes at the Block Bot hold out hope that some sense might be seen.
Trolls and abuse aside (and boy am I getting a lot of that right now) I hope that my sincerity in this matter and my concern for the thousands of other people being defamed by the current state of the autoblocker comes through.
For sake of clarification:
- I, personally, am not seeking to end the existence of either block list. While I think they’re dangerous and ‘problematic’ (to coin a phrase) people should be able to ignore who they want.
- My concern is purely the defamation. The autoblocker lists thousands of people and it’s doubtless that the overwhelming majority are not part of any hate group nor do they engage in the ‘harassment of women for sport’. Yet they are described as such and individually listed.
It is a mischaracterisation of my position to claim that I am ‘suing for being blocked’. I haven’t decided whether to sue or not yet. The letter is merely the first step and the one that gives me the option later on. What I hope results from this is some pressure and a better conversation and – hopefully – a change along the lines of that which has occurred at the Block Bot.
I have contacted Mr Billingham of The Block Bot, despite his claims that doing so are ‘harassment’ it seems to me that communication on legal matters is essential if they are to be avoided. Provided the changes currently made at The Block Bot remain permanent I see no reason to proceed further.
With The Block Bot Checker taken down the defamatory statements are no longer viewable and the changes to The Block Bot’s front page altered, what remains appears to be ‘small potatoes’. Technically the definitions of the higher levels (EG: bigot) are still defamatory but the changes show willing and it seems pointless to me to pursue that further.
I’ve contacted him to check if these changes are permanent and, if so, there’s no reason to proceed.
Similar changes to the wording on the GGautoblocker would solve the issue there, though I still doubt Randi Harper would be the type of person to change that without pressure – both of us are stubborn and combative it seems.
Ideally statements about ‘harassment’ would be removed along the lines of purely stating that it’s a tool for blocking Gamergate, without the defamation. Such as one might, say, present a tool for blocking Democrats (US political party) without asserting that all democrats are secretly Communist Muslim lizard people.
Even so, the real problem is on the FAQ section of the Autoblocker and its accusations of harassment, hate spewing, harassing women for sport etc (or ‘and n’, if you prefer).
I don’t think moderating the language of the GGautoblocker is such a huge ask. It would help deflate some of the rhetoric on the issues, allow the tool to continue to be used by those who want their echo chambers and would remove the issue of defamation from those on the list who do not fit those descriptions.
If Ms Harper will talk to me in good faith, and again I’ve agreed to do so on her terms entirely, perhaps we can find some useful common ground. Several people have come forward offering to mediate and it will be worth seeing how this proceeds before making any final decisions.
REPUTATIO is an important thing to defend, important enough to order a new laptop when your keyboard – including the ‘n’ key, stops working.