Gizmodo libel suit: SLAPPing, Peeping and Linking

What a technology weblog wrote about a cellphone provider was opinionated and critical. A California appellate court agreed, but also ruled that the article criticizing Peep Telephony was not libel.

“The Greatest Scam in Tech” article published last year by Gizmodo writers did not constitute Internet defamation, according to the three-judge panel. Gizmodo, owned by Gawker Media, questioned the validity of a Peep Telephony cellphone deal that offered free service to customers.

The originator of Peep Telephony counterpunched with a libel lawsuit. The court felt Peep’s legal action smacked of a strategic lawsuit against public participation or SLAPP suit, intended to quiet and censor Gawker.

The judges dismissed the case after explaining why the Gizmodo article did not meet the legal criteria for libel. The authors did not present the article content as fact but wrapped the Peep Telephony criticism with words like “allegedly” and “seemingly.”

Opinions, even harsh ones, are protected by the First Amendment. If the writers had been less subjective with their choice of words and less clear that what they had written was an opinion, Gizmodo might have been held responsible.

The judges noted the style of writing used, which was expressed in the first-person. While the article was sarcastic and “negative,” it never became objective or led readers to believe the content was factual.

The article featured sources and links to the plaintiff’s websites, which allowed readers to judge whether the article was truthful. The sources led to facts, but the article stuck to non-libelous opinions.

Written material cannot make a claim that harms a company’s reputation, when the claim is expressed or implied as fact. The California judges determined that the facts presented in the Gizmodo piece were backed by valuable links and sources.

The authors did not lead readers to believe that their opinions were facts. They formed their words carefully, in a casual first-person style, so that viewers would see what the authors thought and make a choice about the content for themselves.

Source:, “How to Save Yourself From a Defamation Suit: Hedge, Snark, Link,” Megan Garber, Aug. 14, 2012

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