After a pair of authors maintained in a book that the Sandy Hook school shooting was an elaborate hoax, the father of one of the victims sued them, and last summer his suit prevailed in a Wisconsin court, winning an injunction and damages. The father then proceeded to submit requests to Google seeking to deindex material posted by others critical of the Wisconsin judgment and taking the side of the defendant authors. Google did not comply, perhaps because of the principle that injunctions in defamation cases bind only the parties, not others who may circulate similar or related claims.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a leading expert on the First Amendment and defamation law, wrote a blog post in November discussing the takedown requests, after which things got really interesting: the Sandy Hook father sent Google a notice demanding takedown of Volokh’s post, which had simply reported on the controversy without taking defendants’ side. “Failure to do so will leave no alternative but to seek legal redress and remedies in the appropriate court of law. PLEASE BE GOVERNED ACCORDINGLY.” Volokh then corresponded with the man, who advanced two arguments. The first is that “You are repeating the defamatory statements,” which is something the law protects the right to do in the context of truthful reporting on statements made in the course of a judicial proceeding. (That is why the press feels itself at liberty to report on legal cases.) Second, the man complained that the original defendant was “using you as a third party to do which he cannot do himself.” Volokh’s response was that he was writing about the case on his own behalf, not the defendant’s, as the First Amendment entitles him to do.
Bumptious threats seeking to silence First Amendment specialists seldom achieve the results intended.