Blog Fight Devolves Into Legal Nastygrams

from the say-what-now?!? dept

Let me kick this off by saying I don’t know much about blogger Heather Armstrong, often known as “dooce.” I remember that she got some attention for being fired for things she wrote on her blog a long time ago, and then built a successful blog-based business in the ensuing years. I also know that she seems to bring out strong emotions — both for and against her — from her readers. I can relate to that. What I can’t relate to, however, is going legal because someone wrote a vague blog post suggesting that she happened to be in Los Angeles filming an online video. However, that appears to be exactly what’s happened.

Another blog (which I’d never heard of until now) called “” published a post, now deleted, though it wasn’t too difficult to find the Google cache or popular press which quoted the key parts. As far as I can tell, the “dispute” is that Armstrong claimed that she was taking a break from blogging for a bit. Good for her. But “GOMI” wrote that the “break” was “fake” because she was really in LA filming a show for YouTube. Forgive me again for not quite understanding what’s wrong with any of this. I’m not sure why it would be a problem whether or not she was in LA filming whatever she wanted. However, what does seem clear is that Armstrong was not happy about this, declaring publicly that it was defamation, and asking publicly for a lawyer. She appears to have found a lawyer who then sent a legal nastygram to GOMI and its hosting company, claiming that the original post was “defamatory.”

Separately, the letter appears to suggest that Armstrong/her lawyer would drop the defamation issue if only GOMI reveals its source for the original story:

Once again, I have no clue if the original allegation is true or not. And I remain at a complete loss as to how it matters to anyone. If she was in LA, good for her. If she wasn’t… um… good for her. Who really cares?

But what I do care about is legal bullying, and I have to raise questions about a legal nastygram sent over something as simple as a claim about where someone was at a particular time. While Armstrong and her lawyer seem to think that it’s defamation, beyond the trouble understanding what the problem is here, the bar for defamation for a public figure, which Armstrong undoubtedly is, is quite high, and requires malicious intent. It’s difficult to see how the original post would come anywhere within the same time zone as that bar.

That said, in looking over some of Armstrong’s history, it appears she, too, was once against legal bullying:

I have no faith in our legal system, one that guarantees victory only for the party who can afford to pay for it, one that would allow a large company to bully a private citizen because it knows that she has no money with which to defend herself.

Perhaps she got the wrong lesson out of that experience.

That said, in typical Streisand Effect fashion, this whole kerfuffle seems to only have called much more attention to the original issue, and brought a spotlight on what (again) appears to be a totally insignificant point. If she’s just ignored the post in the first place, and let the matter pass, it seems likely it would have been forgotten long ago. So why waste time and money on lawyers to send a nastygram when, at best, all it’s going to do is call much more attention to the original post? What actual “harm” was caused by anything here? Is going to LA to film a web video some sort of massive euphemism for something horrible I don’t know about?

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Comments on “Blog Fight Devolves Into Legal Nastygrams”

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G Thompson (profile) says:


Does that surgery include use of the Ego deflater 1000(tm) with the optional ability to remove long wooden tubular object(s) embedded in posteriors?

Enquiring minds…

Oh and anyone who dresses a dog up like this poor thing with the blue hair has no qualifications to claim they are being defamed since by that picture they are telling the world they are a complete dickhead

Though from reading a bit, she has a nice writing style. Though reading GetOffMyInternets shows they have a very different, cynical and parody type style (which I quite enjoy).

The Internet where the weird survive and the normal get eaten…

Vadim Lebedev (profile) says:

Defamation is really very subjective

It could be that she said to her boyfriend/hysband that she’s in N.Y. on business and went instead to L.A. with another guy….
Now it could be that publicity around her presumed stay in LA is causing problems with her husband.

This could explain the legal threats.
It could be another way around too: Somebody WANTED to cause her problems with her husband and so spread info (or lies) about her stay in L.A.

In this kind if situation people often behave irrationally…

John Doe says:

Let me see if I have this right.

Heather Armstrong is in Los Angeles filming a YouTube video. At least that is the statement made about her. But this may or may not be true. So, saying “Heather Armstrong is in Los Angeles filming a YouTube video” could lead to trouble? And Heather Armstrong doesn’t like people saying “Heather Armstrong is in Los Angeles filming a YouTube video”.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Let me see if I have this right.

So if she wasn’t “in Los Angeles filming a Youtube video” what was she doing then?

Questions need to be asked! Answers need to be questioned. Hypothesis must be forthcoming. The world demands explanations to this travesty of cinematographical proportions.

Though it beggars the question. Was she anywhere at all, and if she wasn’t anywhere, does she really exist. Do any of us on the internet.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:


Pretty much what I was wondering the whole time I read the article was “unless it’s a porn video, what exactly is the problem here?”

What is wrong with porn? It is what made the internet what it is today. If the internet was to disappear today, hundreds of thousands of people would once again have to go to the local 7-eleven to pick up a porn magazine. Maybe that is the reason why so many folks want the internet to disappear? If she is in Los Angeles filming porn for YouTube, good for her.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bad analogy, Mike

“It’s difficult to see how the original post would come anywhere within the same time zone as that bar.”

I know you were trying to say both were very far, but your analogy fails at that. There are several places in the world which are on different time zones, yet are very near – in fact, that will happen on every time zone boundary.

Be more careful with your analogies next time.

JustMe (profile) says:

Interesting discussion, but a point of confusion

Thanks for bringing this important news item to our attention, Mike. I was previously unaware that blogger Heather Armstrong was recently in L.A. filming a YouTube video. Had I known that Heather Armstrong was recently in L.A. filming a YouTube video I certainly would have been following the story about Heather Armstrong filming a YouTube video in L.A. more closely.

I have a couple of questions. When Heather Armstrong was recently in L.A. filming a YouTube video, are we sure that it was, in fact, a YouTube video? I think it is important to get all of the facts correct, if only for the sake of Heather Armstrong’s sterling reputation. Is it possible that Heather Armstrong was recently in L.A. filming a Vimeo video, or perhaps Heather Armstrong was recently in L.A. filming a short film for a venue-to-be-decided-later? Has anyone asked Heather Armstrong if she was recently in L.A. filming a video to be aired on SNL?

Also, any truth to the rumor that she attended Coachella while she was in L.A. filming a YouTube video? If so, does that change the facts of the story? I believe that Coachella is actually located in Indio, and not L.A., although it may certainly be considered to be part of the greater L.A. environs I suppose.

After all, it is important that the facts are accurately reported in Heather Armstrong’s legal suit over defamation (which occurred on the web site GetOffMyInternets (GOMI)).

ChrisV (profile) says:

She lost me when she tweeted a series of “Eff Offs” to a number of people. I must be really old fashioned but why would Levi-Strauss, Ikea, Samsung, etc., pay to have this type of person represent their brands? Yeah, we all swear from time-to-time, me most of all, but if you’re going to accept payment from corporations, I’d think you’d need to present a more cleaned-up public image.

Then she (and her now-estranged spouse) bullied “The Bloggess”, one of the most wonderful and sweet people in the blogging world.

Stephan Kinsella (profile) says:

IP and Defamation Law are the Problem

As usual in such matters: the problem is not “legal bullying.” It’s the law that is being used to bully. And that law is defamation law (libel and slander). Defamation law is just a type of intellectual property, and is as illegitimate as is patent, copyrgiht, and trademark law. All forms of IP, including libel and slander, should be abolished. They are inherently unjust and unnecessary, and only lead to violation of individual rights, as illustrated here.

G Thompson (profile) says:

IP and Defamation Law are the Problem

Wut the?

What part of history of laws do you get that pearl of wisdom from that “Defamation law is just a type of intellectual property”?

That’s like saying both Assault and common law Trespass are a form of IP too. Sorry Stephan but that’s just strange for you to state this.

As for using the law to bully.. Tort reform guys! Make America do what rest of common law countries do and remove statutory damages on everything, enable federal anti-slap laws and work on a loser pays equitable system.

*wonders what has been in the water in the USA lately*

Stephan Kinsella (profile) says:

IP and Defamation Law are the Problem

“What part of history of laws do you get that pearl of wisdom from that “Defamation law is just a type of intellectual property”?”

I have explained this in detail elsewhere. google it. but the bottom line is defamation law assumes you have a property right in your “reputation”–this is not a physical object or scarce resource. This is why it is like patent and copyright.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


As many high end video cameras go straight to a memory card these days instead of tape I guess shoot is the right word now. Then again, you shoot a movie, too.

People are used to saying film a “something” so I don’t see the big deal in it. Technially you’re right and no one in the biz would confuse the two many other people do out of sheer laziness or just brain connecting film to video before the correction portion of the brain kicks in and says “it’s tape, dammit!!!” Though as I’ve mentioned it’s often “card” I guess these days.

People hold onto expressions long after technology has made the expressions obsolete. It’s not a big deal.

I Love Cheese says:

Nobody thinks reader manipulation accusation is a problem for a mommy blogger?

Nobody here thinks it would be damaging for a popular mommy blogger who says they are exhausted and taking a break from the blog for a while to have another site say “You faked your exhaustion, actually you were pursuing a job opportunity”?

Hey, I’m not saying go sue them (!) and I’m not disputing the Streisand Effect backfire either, but damaging? A mommy blogger who plays on her audience’s heartstrings and turns out to be a liar would no doubt lose sympathy and followers.

Not that you couldn’t take a break and film something (porn especially!) at the same time, but that’s not the way the article was written, it specifically accused fakery.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Nobody thinks reader manipulation accusation is a problem for a mommy blogger?

mommy blogger who has a staff running her blog could have just as easily put up a post challenging the questionable post. but instead she went all crazy legal trying to show a pattern of GOMI’s going after her… except GOMI goes after LOTS of mommy bloggers. I enjoyed a post about a mommy blogger bitching about someone having ripped off her recipe… after she had been caught ripping off other peoples work.

Fame – Real World or Blogosphere is the same double edged sword. If you put things out there, do not pretend people might get the wrong idea. Rather than hide behind layers of lawyers one could actually prove the story to be false and get GOMI to admit they made a mistake with the truth, not a campaign of I will sue you out of existence. Taking a victory lap with GOMI’s head on a pike with the truth is was cooler than limping along with your lawyer carrying you.

G Thompson (profile) says:

IP and Defamation Law are the Problem

Actually your reputation is very scarce since there are two possibilities for it, you either have a good one or you don’t.

You have an absolute property right in your body, no matter what some gene based companies wat, and part of your body is what you do with it. If you are a ethical person who does no harm other than that which by necessity for survival you must do then your reputation is good. This is something you own, you control whether you are ethical or not.

To state that you cannot control your reputation to the extent that people have wronged you is hypocritical in the extreme.

It’s NOT a property right it is a natural right of self determination that if someone by malice or design wants to usurp then you have a natural right to stop them by any reasonable means necessary.

This is what the pure concept of defamation is for, especially since it was originally based on trespass of person.

Reputation like human life is a finite resource that you alone can only control. You can not give it away nor deplete it you can only change it. Do not confuse this with scarcity which is based on models of consumption.

I Love Cheese says:

Nobody thinks reader manipulation accusation is a problem for a mommy blogger?

Yeah, I’m not really defending the decision to go nuclear with the attorney. But everyone above was saying what is the big deal about shooting a film or whatever? I’m just saying that I do think the tabloid article about a mommy blogger “faking” an emotional meltdown so she could take time off to make a film would not go down well with fans.

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