Conducting online reputation management can come with a few surprises. The entrepreneur never knows what she might find on the Internet, what some competitor says about her or what a dissatisfied customer might write in a review. The Internet can be a terrifying mystery that is unwrapped daily, especially for those who are in the public spotlight. For one Dallas company, they woke up one morning to find a man who was attempting to extort them. William Stanley threatened to flood the Internet with negative reviews unless they paid him nearly $30,000. While threatening to sue a company may not seem like a legitimate business practice, the currently jailed Stanley will be arguing that this is a case of Free Speech during his trial.
Is Extortion An Exercise of Free Speech?
The problem with what Stanley is doing may become crystalized if we apply his tactic as a standard business practice or even a career. If he were to win in court, then he could make a career of threatening to ruin the reputation of legitimate companies. Just as there are online reputation management companies, Stanley could start an online defamation company.
There is a difference between free speech and extortion, or free speech and defamation. The rights of one individual end where the rights of another begin. The liberty to violate the rights of another person is not a true freedom. It is a form of anarchy, which is essentially what Stanley is advocating in his position. For him to say that he can extort a company as an exercise of free speech is lawless.
Threatening To Share Misinformation
One might be able to sympathize with Stanley if he were sharing a legitimate concern about the company. But he threatened that if they do not pay him $30,000, he is going to share false and misleading information on the Internet, ruining the companies reputation. One will have to wonder if something could be an exercise of free speech if it is an outright lie. Is perjury an exercise of free speech? Surely not. One can be confident that the courts will rule against Stanley.