Chelsea Van Valkenburg A/K/A Zoe Quinn v. Free Speech
October 23, 2014
"You are also ordered not to post any further information about [Chelsea Van Valeknburg] or her personal life or online to [unclear] hate mobs." - Chelsea Van Valkenburg (AKA Zoe Quinn) v. Eron Gjoni.
When people say mean things about us online or even smear our reputations, our first impulse is to fight back. Some people file frivolous defamation lawsuits - called strategic lawsuits against public participation - or SLAPP for short. Others combat speech they disagree with by getting their own message out.
Still others call the police to arrest their criticis. That is what Chelsea Van Valkenburg elected to do.
Chelsea Van Valkenburg (who goes by the alias Zoe Quinn) cheated on her boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. More than that, according to Gjoni, Valkenburg mentally and physically abused him by exposing him to STD risk, as she cheated on him with several different men and it's uncertain if she used protection.
(Gjoni weighs 135 pounds and has a fondness for cats.)
(Zoe Quinn is much larger than Gjoni and possess a dominant physical presence. She is, in all ways, an alpha female.)
Zoe Quinn obtains a restraining order against Eron Gjoni.
In Massachusetts a victim of domestic violence may obtain a protective order - a 209a order for short. A 209a order is nothing unusual. It's what we all understand of as "restraining order" or "peace order."
Essentially, a person subject to the 209a order is not allowed to come within 1,000 feet of the person who has obtained the order. He may not call her or contact her or stalk her. Pretty basic stuff.
Zoe Quinn made several frightening allegations against Gjoni. The truth of those accusations are not at issue here. In fact, I have no interest in their personal squabble.
My interest lies solely in the free speech issue. Gjoni's has been silenced. Much worse, he has been ordered to appear in court for allegedly violating the court order.
Gjoni may go to jail for merely speaking his mind and sharing his story.
Zoe Quinn's conduct is lawfare.
Quinn's actions were not surprising. In fact, First Amendment wonks have a term for it. It's called a Kimberlin v. Walker issue, and it is a form of lawfare.
Kimberlin v. Aaron Walker was widely covered by a politically liberal blogger who also has a high regard for free speech.
As Ken at Popehat observed in his discussion of Kimberlin:
3. Aaron's arrest illustrates how well lawfare can work and how dangerous unprincipled rubber-stamping of protective orders can be. Imagine it: you write something about a dispute. Someone involved in that dispute goes to court in another state and accuses you of harassment and gets a "peace order" against you. That person claims that your writing is threatening, that it has led to threats, or that it constitutes persistent harassment. If you are very lucky, the judge denies the application because it is too vague, or because it seems to complain about protected speech — but if you are unlucky, the judge rubber-stamps it without even demanding to see the allegedly offending posts.
In Kimberlin, the plaintiff "sought, and obtained, a new 'peace order' (Maryland law-speak for a restraining order) against Aaron, trying to portray Aaron's protected expression as harassment and threats." The protective order prevented Walker from exercising his free speech rights by providing commentary critical of Kimberlin.
Walker was arrested, "apparently on the grounds that by blogging about Kimberlin's behavior, he had violated the peace order."
As Ken at Popehat observed:
Brandenbug, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is the United States Supreme Court case that articulates the relevant standard: speech may only be banned on the theory that it is incitement when it is intended to create, and likely to create, a clear and present danger of imminent lawless action.
One might argue that Gjoni's earlier blog post describing the alleged physical and mental abuse he suffered "intended to create, and likely to create, a clear and present danger of imminent lawless action."
In that case, the protective order should have clearly stated what sort of speech Gjoni was not allowed to make.
Instead, the order was vague and overbroad, as its very terms cover any and all speech Gjoni would make.
The order read, "You are also ordered not to post any further information about [Chelsea Van Valkenburg] or her personal life or online to [unclear] hate mobs."
What does any personal information about Valkenburg mean? By the terms of the order, it would seem to prohibit constitutionally protected speech. After all, Gjoni has the right to talk about the alleged abuse he suffered at Valkenburg's hands.
Eron Gjoni has the right to speak out about the abuse he allegedly suffered at Chelsea Van Valkenburg's hands.
Eugene Volokh is one of the country's leading experts on the First Amendment. In his article Free Speech and Criminal Harassment Laws (here) he covers the use and abuse of protective orders as they relate to free speech.
Volokh's article distinguishes between speech to one person and speech to many people. Think of it this way.
You may obtain a protective order preventing me from harassing you or talking to you. That is one-to-one speech. You may not, however, prevent me from talking about you to other people (one-to-many) speech.
Volokh writes (emphasis added):
Restrictions on public speech about a person, then, stand on very different First Amendment footing from restrictions on unwanted speech to the person. Such restrictions on speech about a person can be constitutional when limited to speech that falls within the recognized First Amendment exceptions, such as threats, libel, and intentional incitement to likely and imminent criminal attack. But when one-to-many speech about people falls outside these exceptions, it should be constitutionally protected.
As I mentioned above, I don’t want to claim that one-to-many speech is less harmful than one-to-one speech. Indeed, many people might be much more upset about insulting things said publicly about them—to listeners who might be influenced by such criticism—than about insulting things said directly to them.
Nonetheless, for reasons discussed in Part I, one-to-many speech has full First Amendment value because it involves the expression of facts and opinions aimed at informing and persuading potentially willing listeners. It should therefore generally be constitutionally protected, notwithstanding the offense and distress it causes to its subjects. And this is certainly where current First Amendment doctrine points.
Eron Gjoni's First Amendment rights are being violated.
Gjoni has the right to discuss the abuse he allegedly suffered at Zoe Quinn's hands. The 209a order is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague under the First Amendment. It's overbroad because it could not possibly cover anything and everything that Gjoni might want to talk about. It's vague because it doesn't put a reasonable person on notice as to what speech is prohibited.
On a moral level, Chelsea Van Valkenburg's conduct is despicable. She is abusing the court system to prevent legitimate criticism of her.
Valkenburg's position on doxxing.
Indeed, in her affidavit for the 209a order, Chelsea Van Valkenburg complained about "doxxing" - the practice of posting a person's information online to harass others. Yet Valkenburg herself "doxxed" me.
Valkenburg and a co-hort have posted pictures of my home as well as my address on a website. According to Valkenburg, doxxing is done when a person wants third partiess to torment, harass, or harm another.
By Valkenburg's logic, my life is in grave danger.
According to Valkenburg and her supporters (including many in the mainstream media such as Rebecca Vipond Brink), posting my personal information only and disseminating it out to a hate mob is OK, because I am an evil person who said some of the types of things people who write for Gawker say.
Not only does Valkenburg abuse the court system, she also is attempting to incite others to stalk and harass me.
Unlike Valkenburg, I will not be seeking a court order.
Instead, I will continue to exercise my First Amendment rights by talking about her case.
I have only just begun exposing Chelsea Van Valkenburg a/k/a Zoe Quin and her lies.