The ACLU of California is defending the free speech rights of a blog which speculated Taylor Swift supports the alt-right and KKK after Swift’s lawyers sent the blog a cease-and-desist letter.
The blog post is ridiculous, but it’s even more ridiculous that because of the current hysterical political environment, Swift’s lawyers felt the need to take the comparison seriously.
PopFront, a small blog which covers “Culture + Politics from the Left Coast,” wrote that the lyrics to Swift’s new single "Look What You Make Me Do" supposedly "read like a defense of white privilege and white anger." It goes on to argue that her silence during Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency suggests support of white nationalists in his base.
Swift’s legal team threatened a defamation lawsuit if the post was not taken down, arguing that that the piece “propagates such hideous falsehoods.”
Hideous as the falsehoods are, the ACLU of California is right that the blog is protected by the First Amendment. All the statements on the blog are presented as opinion, not fact. Opinions, even poorly-researched opinions, cannot constitute defamation.
If Swift’s lawyers got their way, some of her own scathing lyrics and accusations could be questioned legally. (“She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress,” for instance.)
The controversy over PopFront’s piece not only highlights timely issues about free speech, but also the wave of hysteria and fear about white supremacy.
The most absurd claims originate on college campuses. A sociology professor at the City University of New York proclaimed that “the white-nuclear family is one of the most powerful forces supporting white supremacy” in a Twitter rant. A liberal student group at the University of Virginia said that a campus statue of Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the university, “serves as an emblem of white supremacy.”
Between these movements on college campuses, the Taylor Swift piece, and demands that leaders at all levels denounce racism, one thing is clear: It doesn’t matter to the progressive left if you have nothing to do with hateful ideas. You will be made to care. If you’re not with them, you’re against them.
But defamation lawsuits to silence accusers aren’t right and aren’t necessary. The tides are already turning in the court of public opinion. The public is growing tired of overzealous accusations of white supremacy, and even those on the left can sense it.
After the Latino Victory Fund ran an ad depicting a truck with a confederate flag chasing after minority children, progressive group Democracy for America ended direct support of Democrat Ralph Northam’s campaign for governor of Virginia, alleging that he went soft on his support for sanctuary cities.
Even college students are tired of the perpetual accusations. As Chris Bodenner wrote in the Atlantic, students at Reed College criticized protests against white supremacy which interrupted class discussions.
In the marketplace of ideas, the best way to fight speech is with more speech. The next time the haters hate, Swift, or anyone faced with an outrageous accusation, should either point out the absurdity of the claim or learn to shake it off — no lawsuits required.
Emily Larsen (@emilyelarsen) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a freelancer and a participant in the Charles Koch Institute's Media and Journalism Fellowship program. Previously, she was a program manager at Campus Reform.
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