A SLAPP suit is a legal action undertaken or threatened to make the target stop any public activities in opposition to the interests of the person or organization bringing the suit. The acronym stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, also seen as Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
A SLAPP is a type of frivolous lawsuit, not undertaken to be won, necessarily, but to intimidate the target into ceasing activities such as speaking out against an organization or petitioning the government to protect the public from its practices. The defendant may be an individual or an organization. Environmental, human rights, privacy and social justice activist organizations are frequent targets of SLAPP suits. Typically, the target has done nothing but exercise legal rights such as free speech and peaceful assembly. In the United States, these rights and others are enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Because SLAPPs can be expensive to defend, many targets agree to stop speaking out, apologize to the organization and/or publicly state that their earlier statements were in error. SLAPPs also tend to intimidate uninvolved third parties who are afraid of being similarly targeted. That phenomenon, known as the chilling effect, means that the threat of a lawsuit against one individual or group can significantly dampen the general public’s criticism of an organization’s practices.
To protect citizens from being targeted with these baseless lawsuits, some jurisdictions have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation.
Robert Reich explains the threat to society in SLAPP suits: