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Author Topic: infiltration and misrepresentation to discredit - should it be legal?
LetterRip
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In the another thread it was mentioned that members of the Tea Party were infiltrating union protests holding up offensive signs, and making offensive statements to the press trying to make the unions look bad.

A similar approach was attempted to discredit the tea party.

This is not a unique tactic - governments, corporations, etc. have a long history of doing this.

Should this behaviour be legal?

It seems particularly heinous to misrepresent a group this way so as to turn public opinion against them.

Libel and Slander are illegal and these are far more heinous attempts to discredit the character of individuals and groups.

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Should this behaviour be legal?
Yes. It sucks though.
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G2
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If it were illegal, I don't see how you could enforce it. You might pick up a few people to make examples of but that would be it.
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LetterRip
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JoshuaD,

why should it be legal? It is essentially fraud.

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edgmatt
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There is a social penalty for it. (When you get caught.) The backlash undermines your own party/organization.

On top of that, the more things that are illegal, the less freedom we have. Should there be a law against those protesters having signs that are misleading? For example if I go to an anti-abortion rally and have a sign that says "50 million children are aborted every month!" should that be illegal? It's misleading, it's fraud, should there be a law against that sign?

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
JoshuaD,

why should it be legal? It is essentially fraud.

1) The freedom of speech issue trumps the deception issue, in this case, in my opinion.

2) I can't imagine a law that actually solves the problem.

3) Any law I think of that attempts to solve the problem will have unintended side-effects that are worse than the original problem.

[ February 23, 2011, 02:05 PM: Message edited by: JoshuaD ]

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JoshuaD
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Oh, and

4) The event organizers already have many tools to help mitigate this problem.

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LetterRip
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JoshuaD,

quote:
1) The freedom of speech issue trumps the deception issue, in this case, in my opinion.
How can trying to defraud the public be 'free speech', this exactly parallels slander and libel but in a more underhanded way. Do you feel that slander and libel are unfair restraints on free speech?

For a technical parallel, if you had left your computer logged in, and someone were to send out emails, post content in your twitter feeds, and facebook pages that you are terrorist, would you figure that was just free speech so ok?

Or what if someone were to send out letters with your return address and with your name in the salutation describing your desire/intent to engage in some terrorist actions.

These are almost exactly parallel situations using different technical means. So if you find the first to be free speech and not subject to legal restraint, then the others should be similarly acceptable to you.

edgmatt,

there is very little penalty. I just showed very clear evidence of the tea party doing this in another thread - has there been even a slight diminishment in support for the tea party on this site?

[ February 23, 2011, 02:59 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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JoshuaD
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LR: You ignored my points 2-4. They are at least as important to me as 1.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
4) The event organizers already have many tools to help mitigate this problem.
Precisely this. In fact, speaking only of the Wisconsin protests here, I believe the protest organizers have in general done a fairly good job of identifying and isolating "infiltrators" and making sure that they don't poison the message. The exception, of course, applies to Fox News, which many people suspect is actually making a special effort to locate, support, and film those infiltrators; that sort of suspicion is behind the "Fox Lies" chanting that's made the news recently, as Fox has really gone out of its way to pillory and slander the protesters despite what is in many ways a historically peaceful and respectful crowd (especially given its size).
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Viking_Longship
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quote:

Libel and Slander are illegal and these are far more heinous attempts to discredit the character of individuals and groups.

Are you sure you're using illegal correctly? As I understand Libel and Slander are actionable in civil court, but they're not illegal.
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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
I just showed very clear evidence of the tea party doing this in another thread - has there been even a slight diminishment in support for the tea party on this site?

Trying to indict the entire Tea Party based on one relatively unknown persons website is a very, big stretch.

When this happened to the Tea Party and G2 posted a thread on it, no one, including G2 recommended passing a law to stop it. You even posted on that thread.

Crashing the Tea Party

The behavior is the same. There is no greater urgency to change the law now versus then. No one was even surprised by the behavior, though it was roundly criticized.

Nor did anyone attempt to say that a Lefties attempt to infiltrate the Tea Party discredited the entire Left.

[ February 23, 2011, 03:55 PM: Message edited by: JWatts ]

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LetterRip
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JWatts,

quote:
Trying to indict the entire Tea Party based on one relatively unknown persons website is a very, big stretch.
You misunderstood me. I was not claiming that the actions of a few SHOULD discredit the group of which they are members of, I was pointing out that he was wrong that it does so.

quote:

When this happened to the Tea Party and G2 posted a thread on it, no one, including G2 recommended passing a law to stop it. You even posted on that thread.

I thought it should be illegal then as well.

quote:
The behavior is the same. There is no greater urgency to change the law now versus then. No one was even surprised by the behavior, though it was roundly criticized.
I don't see why you think I believe 'there is greater urgency to change the law', or that I believe it is different behavior. Perhaps you could avoid speculating and assuming I have some sort of agenda where it is ok for 'lefties' but not 'righties'. If an action is wrong I really don't give a damn who engages in it, I don't find it to be tolerable from anyone. I think it has been quite clear on this site that I don't play favorites when it comes to bad behaviour and it rather pisses me off a bit when you try to imply that I do so.
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LetterRip
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Viking,

quote:
Are you sure you're using illegal correctly? As I understand Libel and Slander are actionable in civil court, but they're not illegal.
Agreed that my wordings was wrong/imprecise. It is indeed a tort. I think a tort would be the proper area of law for this as well. Hmm perhaps it would already be covered under defamation and no 'new' law would be required.

quote:
Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image. It is usually a requirement that this claim be false and that the publication is communicated to someone other than the person defamed (the claimant).[1]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation

[ February 23, 2011, 04:55 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
JWatts,

quote:
:Trying to indict the entire Tea Party based on one relatively unknown persons website is a very, big stretch.
You misunderstood me. I was not claiming that the actions of a few SHOULD discredit the group of which they are members of, I was pointing out that he was wrong that it does so.

Perhaps you could avoid speculating and assuming I have some sort of agenda where it is ok for 'lefties' but not 'righties'. If an action is wrong I really don't give a damn who engages in it, I don't find it to be tolerable from anyone. I think it has been quite clear on this site that I don't play favorites when it comes to bad behaviour and it rather pisses me off a bit when you try to imply that I do so.

[Roll Eyes]

These are your words:
quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
I just showed very clear evidence of the tea party doing this in another thread - has there been even a slight diminishment in support for the tea party on this site?

You were clearly criticizing the Tea Party here.
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TommySama
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JWatts,
quote:
You were clearly criticizing the Tea Party here.
Still misunderstanding. He was responding to the claim that people/groups that slander in this way will be discredited. Thus he pointed out that in the Tea Party this is not happening (this quote: "There is a social penalty for it. (When you get caught.) The backlash undermines your own party/organization.").
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Gaoics79
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quote:
It is indeed a tort. I think a tort would be the proper area of law for this as well. Hmm perhaps it would already be covered under defamation and no 'new' law would be required.
If it's a tort, then who would be the plaintiff? And how would you quantify the damages?

I agree that it's underhanded, but I can't see any practical means of banning it, let alone enforcing such a ban.

[ February 23, 2011, 05:41 PM: Message edited by: jasonr ]

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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by TommySama:
JWatts,
quote:
You were clearly criticizing the Tea Party here.
Still misunderstanding. He was responding to the claim that people/groups that slander in this way will be discredited. Thus he pointed out that in the Tea Party this is not happening (this quote: "There is a social penalty for it. (When you get caught.) The backlash undermines your own party/organization.").
[FootInMouth] Yes, I did misread it. My apologies LetterRip. And I do believe that you act with fairness in mind.
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LetterRip
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JWatts,

heh, no problem, we all misundertand folks from time to time, glad it was cleared up.

jasonr,

quote:
If it's a tort, then who would be the plaintiff? And how would you quantify the damages?
Mere technicalities [Smile] In this instance we can see who the target of defamation was by his post - he specifically states the unions that are the target of the defamation.

As to damages I can think of a few arguments that could be used to establish damage to reputation. (Since defamation suits frequently find emotional damage and compensations for said damage I don't think that is a serious barrier).

quote:

I agree that it's underhanded, but I can't see any practical means of banning it, let alone enforcing such a ban.

Like I said, it might already be covered under current defamation law my previous understanding of libel and slander are much narrower than the laws actually are, they appear to already cover this, though I don't think it has ever been pursued.
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LetterRip
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JoshuaD,

was pointed out that I hadn't responded to your other points,

quote:
2) I can't imagine a law that actually solves the problem.
Depends on what you mean by solve. Since I think existing defamation law covers it, it is arguably 'solved' in some respect already. Not perfect but perhaps can address some of it.

quote:
3) Any law I think of that attempts to solve the problem will have unintended side-effects that are worse than the original problem.
So what are your views on current defamation laws? I guess I don't see how they are 'worse' than the problem.

quote:
4) The event organizers already have many tools to help mitigate this problem.
They are somewhat effective, but as is clear in the current example they are able to infiltrate, get on camera, and leave even when protestors have measures in place to try and prevent it.
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starLisa
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
quote:
1) The freedom of speech issue trumps the deception issue, in this case, in my opinion.
How can trying to defraud the public be 'free speech', this exactly parallels slander and libel but in a more underhanded way. Do you feel that slander and libel are unfair restraints on free speech?
Fraud, like libel and slander, are tort issues. Anyone can sue anyone else (with a few exceptions). The question is whether they can make a case that damages have occurred. For example, if I work for someone black who knows I'm a tea partier, and a leftist provocateur holds up a sign at a tea party event that uses the N word, and my boss fires me, I think I'd have a legitimate claim of damages against the person who held up the sign. But then, I might have that same claim of damages even if the person was sincere in his racism.

I know it isn't a good example, because in this ridiculous country, a person in that situation would be more likely to sue the employer (and win), but let's say we're talking about a saner situation where an employer can spend his money as he wishes.

It isn't damages to make someone look bad. There have to be damages that result from being made to look bad.

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LetterRip
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starLisa,

quote:
Fraud, like libel and slander, are tort issues.
Agreed, as I said above I think this probably already would fall under defamation so we don't need any new law, someone might already be able to bring suit.

quote:
It isn't damages to make someone look bad. There have to be damages that result from being made to look bad.
Damage to reputation almost inevitability results in reduced employment and other lost opportunities. Defamation of the unions results in reduced union membership, decreased negotiating power, and other tangible loses. The case could easily be made for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in loses due to defamation.
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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Damage to reputation almost inevitability results in reduced employment and other lost opportunities.

But trying to prove damages in cases like this would be nearly impossible. How do you prove that an "infiltrator" was there? Who is responsible for the damages?

Assume, you catch a Tea Party member carrying a Hitler sign at a rally. How do you prove he was a member of the Tea Party? How do you determine his identity at all?

Assuming you can, do you attempt to sue him? What if he's in college and has no assets? You certainly couldn't go after the Tea Party, unless they specifically authorized him to do it, which would almost never be the case.

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starLisa
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Damage to reputation almost inevitability results in reduced employment and other lost opportunities.

That's adorable. Let me know when you plan on arguing "almost inevitably" in a court of law. I want to make sure I'm there to see the look on the judge's face.

quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Defamation of the unions results in reduced union membership, decreased negotiating power, and other tangible loses. The case could easily be made for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in loses due to defamation.

Feh. Unions don't have rights. They aren't people. And you would never be able to establish that someone would have gotten paid more otherwise. This is just pouting and sulking.
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starLisa
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quote:
Originally posted by JWatts:
quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Damage to reputation almost inevitability results in reduced employment and other lost opportunities.

But trying to prove damages in cases like this would be nearly impossible. How do you prove that an "infiltrator" was there? Who is responsible for the damages?

Assume, you catch a Tea Party member carrying a Hitler sign at a rally. How do you prove he was a member of the Tea Party? How do you determine his identity at all?

Assuming you can, do you attempt to sue him? What if he's in college and has no assets? You certainly couldn't go after the Tea Party, unless they specifically authorized him to do it, which would almost never be the case.

If LR's ideas were ever put into practice, it would result in horrible witch hunts.
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TheRallanator
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Even if I thought this sort of law was a good idea (which I don't), I can't imagine how it would be enforced. Would you have police ready to round up all the protesters at an event who don't look suitably legit? Would people who aren't members of an approved organisation be denied the right to attend a protest? Who would decide whether a group of counterprotesters really are infiltrators and not satirists? Who would decide whether a group of people with a particularly offensive message are protest saboteurs and not just bigoted idiots?
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LetterRip
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starLisa,

quote:
That's adorable. Let me know when you plan on arguing "almost inevitably" in a court of law. I want to make sure I'm there to see the look on the judge's face.
When you make condescending statements like 'that's adorable' it just makes you sound stupid when the person you are condescending to has more knowledge than you. Almost inevitably was a statement of likelihood - the specific case would be based on its merits. It would be a rather poor lawyer who couldn't establish damages for such an action.

quote:
Feh. Unions don't have rights.
Unions, like corporations are 'legal persons'.
They have the same host of rights we have for other non-profit and corporate entitites. If you commit defamation against a union you can be sued for it.

quote:
They aren't people.
See, you seem to be under the mistaken belief about law that one needs to be a person to bring a defamation suit - one only needs to be a 'legal person'.

quote:
And you would never be able to establish that someone would have gotten paid more otherwise.
I'm fairly sure that it could be established adequately to provide a basis for damages. That said, that was just a single example of a basis for damages, there are a number of others.

quote:
This is just pouting and sulking.
This is a rather bizarre accusation, perhaps you should comprehend arguements before responding to them. It will result in your responses being much more coherent.

quote:
If LR's ideas were ever put into practice, it would result in horrible witch hunts.
Since defamation laws already exist, and this would be within the scope of existing law, and we don't seem to have a rash of 'horrible witch hunts' your conclusion seems to have been proven wrong before you stated them.

TheRallanator,

quote:
Even if I thought this sort of law was a good idea (which I don't), I can't imagine how it would be enforced.
See above, defamation is already a tort and the existing laws scope is sufficient that this particular type of defamation is already covered.

quote:
Would you have police ready to round up all the protesters at an event who don't look suitably legit?
Nope. Agent Provacatuer does bad deed. He is caught on tape, investigation reveals he was actually an agent provacatuer, lawsuit ensues. No 'preemptive action' needed.

quote:
Would people who aren't members of an approved organisation be denied the right to attend a protest?
No.

quote:
Who would decide whether a group of counterprotesters really are infiltrators and not satirists? Who would decide whether a group of people with a particularly offensive message are protest saboteurs and not just bigoted idiots?
Pretty sure we already have defamation suits and yet the legal system survives. Typical defamation suits encounter the similar issues. For those cases where things are not adequately clear then a suit is never brought, or if it is it fails.

[ February 25, 2011, 02:59 AM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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LetterRip
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Note that unless something is adequately clear that it is satire or parody, then claiming satire or parody is not a sufficient defense against a defamation or 'false light' suit.
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TheRallanator
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The problem though is that even though the legal system would probably be able to seperate the wheat from the chaff and only punish the guilty most of the time (and let's be honest, "most of the time" isn't good enough), it could still have a chilling effect on free speech because it limits what you can do as a counterprotester for fear of being arrested. And given the dubious track record the police already have when it comes to respecting the rights of political protesters, you can bet your ass that the police somewhere will end up abusing this as an excuse to accuse groups they don't like of being "false flag protesters" and locking them up for a while just to deter them from turning up again in future.

The now defunct group Billionaires For Bush for example was very obviously a parody, but their entire schtick involved making Republicans look bad by pretending to be wealthy Republican supporters. Under this proposed law, what would stop the sheriff of a small town where they don't take kindly to hippy peaceniks from arresting them all, letting them go a few hours after the event they came to protest is over, and claiming that he honestly believed their intent was malicious rather than comedic?

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LetterRip
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TheRallanator,

quote:
The now defunct group Billionaires For Bush for example was very obviously a parody, but their entire schtick involved making Republicans look bad by pretending to be wealthy Republican supporters.
Which, since it was clearly parody/satire (and also is not doing specific defamation) wouldn't have a problem.

quote:
Under this proposed law, what would stop the sheriff of a small town where they don't take kindly to hippy peaceniks from arresting them all, letting them go a few hours after the event they came to protest is over, and claiming that he honestly believed their intent was malicious rather than comedic?
As I said I thought it should be a tort, when I'd started the thread I assumed that existing defamation laws wouldn't cover it. Police aren't involved in torts.

So the police wouldn't have any legal reason to interfere. If I defame you, the police don't have any right to try and stop me.

quote:
It could still have a chilling effect on free speech because it limits what you can do as a counterprotester for fear of being arrested. And given the dubious track record the police already have when it comes to respecting the rights of political protesters, you can bet your ass that the police somewhere will end up abusing this as an excuse to accuse groups they don't like of being "false flag protesters" and locking them up for a while just to deter them from turning up again in future.
Police can't preemptively stop a 'tort'. Even if something is clearly defamation it is not within the polices realm of enforcement.
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