Are SLAPP suits illegal?
No, parties can attempt to file such suits, but the First Amendment’s
petition clause guarantees the right of all interested parties to attempt to
enlist the government on their side of an issue or dispute. The vast majority of
the case law and commentary — both popular and scholarly — supports that right,
and suggests that the remedy for dissatisfaction with the statements of another
party is more speech directed toward government, not more litigation.
Do anti-SLAPP laws apply to online libel suits?
A libel suit, whether involving online or off-line speech, is one of the ways a SLAPP suit could be disguised; anti-SLAPP laws would apply. However, not all libel suits are SLAPP suits. Anti-SLAPP laws would apply only if it were found that a suit was filed in response to or in retaliation for citizen communications with government entities or employees, or for speech to bring attention to an issue of public interest or concern.
In 2001, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter determined that California’s
anti-SLAPP statute does apply to cyber-SLAPPs. (See Global
Telemedia International Inc. v. Doe et al., 132 F. Supp. 2d 1261 (C.D.
In 2003, the Massachusetts Appeals Court cited that state’s anti-SLAPP
statute in throwing out a libel lawsuit against a Web site operator whose posted
statements suggested a town official was a Nazi. (See MacDonald v. Paton, 57
Mass.App.Ct. 290 (2003) and "State appeals
court rules online libel suit was really SLAPP.")
Other state anti-SLAPP statutes may also apply to online libel suits. See "Anti-SLAPP
statutes: state summary" for a state-by-state list.