Sunday, April 21, 2024

There should be consequences for untruthful/deceitful speech!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     Oklahoma Senate Bill 1737 (SB#1737), authored by Sen. Todd Gollihare, (R-Tulsa) and Rep. Jeff Boatman, (R-Tulsa) has passed both chambers and awaits Governor Stitt’s signature.  According to the summary of the bill, SB#1737 would allow victims of stalking or electronic harassment to file a cause of action against the perpetrator for actual and punitive damages and injunctive relief when the victim has suffered business interruption or has incurred expenses to remediate the underlying online stalking.  It sailed through the House by a vote of 80-1, with 20 House members ‘excused’ from voting (20%- big number!) and through the Senate 44-2. 

     Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) President Jonathan Small wrote a column saying SB#1737 is a windfall for trial lawyers and will make it easier to harass political opponents by promoting civil action against those practicing free speech in the political arena.  Small urges Oklahomans to contact the governor and ask him to veto SB#1737.  Three observations:

     First, there should be consequences for untruthful/deceitful speech.  Genuinely honest differing views between political opponents should never digress to lying, deceptive double-dealing falsehoods. Libeling or defaming the character of an opponent is over the line.  Most politicos agree, but forget that principle when the campaign starts.  Defamation of an opponent’s character and caricaturing positions is commonplace.

     To prove defamation of character, a plaintiff must prove four things: (1) A lie was purported to be fact, (2) A lie was published or communicated to a third party, (3) A lie was the result of negligence (intentional), (4) A lie caused harm or damage.  Courts have been disinclined to intervene in political defamation disputes because free speech is constitutionally protected.  Because of the court’s reluctance, and the lack of ethics in politics, truth in the public arena is threatened. 

     Second, is SB#1737 targeted legislation?  Small believes the legislation is a result of OCPA’s dispute with Paycom.  OCPA, a conservative think tank, was sued by Paycom a couple of years ago after it mentioned the Paycom CEO in a column regarding COVID restrictions.  The lawsuit was dismissed.  The bill’s authors claim the ‘electronic’ component is what is missing in the state’s statutes and their motivation is to protect a citizen’s right to protect their reputation.   If SB#1737 is aimed at or a reaction to a specific incident, it is inappropriate legislation.  Lawmakers all too often, run bills to benefit an industry, special interest, or friend, with little regard to the consequences for the general public.

     Third, businesses should probably stick to business.  Unless they are a lobbying firm, they should focus on the primary reason they are in business.  When a business makes the conscious decision to deviate from selling their goods or service and enter the political arena, they should expect consequences.  They risk boycotts, repercussions, and value judgments from customers.  Competitors will take advantage and volume and profitability can suffer.  SB#1737 provides activist business leaders a safety net, but is that necessary?

     Free speech is a fundamental right in America.  The harm principle is defined as ‘your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.’  People should be free to act as they wish as long as their actions do not cause harm to others.

     Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they are entitled to express it online.  There are going to be opinions you don’t agree with.  Some of the people expressing those opinions will do it in a not so nice way.  If your response is to not be nice, or to actually threaten or harass them, you must be willing to pay the price.


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