The ACLU isn’t shaking off Taylor Swift’s crackdown on a blogger.
The civil liberties organization sent a letter to the pop star slamming Swift’s lawsuit threat of a Northern California blogger who tried to make a case for Swift being a closet racist.
“This is a completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech,” said ACLU of Northern California attorney Michael Risher of Swift’s move.
At issue is a post by Meghan Herning titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” The post accuses Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” as secretly having “dog whistles to white supremacy” in her lyrics, quotes a Daily Stormer “white supremacist blogger” who wrote, “It is also an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi” (um, since when is The Daily Stormer a credible source?), claims the Charlottesville white supremacist rally chant of “you will not replace us” is an echo of Taylor Swift’s “I don’t like your kingdom keys, they once belonged to me” lyric, and asks if the hit song “serve[s] as indoctrination into white supremacy” for teen girls.
The presumptive post is tough to take seriously — it’s basically arguing that if some white supremacists like Swift’s extremely popular music it must be her fault and if she doesn’t make a statement denouncing these white supremacists she must be secretly one of them. There’s some similarity here with President Trump’s post-Charlottesville controversy (where he was slammed for declining to unilaterally condemn white supremacist marchers) but that’s a weak comparison: Swift isn’t a politician dealing with racially charged issues and setting policy, but a pop singer who, if anything, strives to be so non-political that she gets criticized for having too few opinions.
Given that the blog in question only has 131 followers on Twitter, perhaps Swift’s best move would have been to shake– um, let it go. But New Taylor is apparently rather litigious, and her camp demanded the blogger take down her story complete with a lawsuit threat. Ultimately the question may not be whether Herning’s take on Swift’s lyrics is wrong or alt-right, but rather: Can a blogger’s opinion on a singer’s lyrics really be considered legally defamatory?
The ACLU doesn’t think so. “Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle. “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech.”
Swift’s camp had no comment, though her lawyer has previously argued strenuously against attempts to link Swift to white nationalists after a certain meme circulated in Pinterest: “The association of Ms. Swift with Adolf Hitler undisputedly is ‘harmful,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘ethnically offensive,’ ‘humiliating to other people,’ ‘libelous,’ and no doubt ‘otherwise objectionable.’ It is of no import that Ms. Swift may be a public figure or that Pinterest conveniently now argues that the Offending Material is mere satire or parody. Public figures have rights. And, there are certain historical figures, such as Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and the like, who are universally identified in the case law and popular culture as lightning rods for emotional and negative reaction.”