Discover more from Hacking, but Legal
From SLAPP to SAAPP: Evolving Tactics in Silencing Public Voices
In which I propose we coin new terminology.
In recent years, a proliferation of harmful behaviors and incidents in public spaces has challenged the traditional boundaries of discourse and engagement, yet these phenomena have not been adequately captured under existing terminologies which are widely understood and accessible to laypeople.
To bridge this gap, I propose the term "Strategic Attacks Against Public Participation (SAAPP)," a framework to help us grasp and address these evolving threats.
This new terminology reflects the changing dynamics of society, where public engagement and discourse increasingly fall prey to subtler, non-judicial forms of suppression and manipulation. This term encompasses a variety of tactics and strategies aimed at diminishing an individual's role in public life, a matter requiring distinct recognition and scrutiny in our digitally-connected society.
SAAPP attacks represent calculated efforts to diminish the victim's determination to remain active in public realms.
Contrasted with SLAPP suits, which primarily employ legal intimidation, SAAPP attacks deploy a wider spectrum of tactics, chiefly focusing on personal and social aggression.
SAAPP's primary objective lies not in securing a particular tangible victory, but in eroding the psychological and social resilience of the target, primarily to induce them to retract from public engagement. Victims endure a broad range of resultant harms, often in silence.
SAAPP attacks, while varied in their methods, share common strategies that are distinctly damaging. These attacks can be multifaceted, combining both online and offline strategies, and the tactics are not only diverse in nature but also insidiously crafted to undermine the victim's public and private spheres.
What follows is a delineation of some of the most prevalent tactics employed in SAAPP attacks, each uniquely contributing to the overarching goal of silencing and isolating the individual.
Reputational Damage: Spreading misleading information to damage the victim's public persona, typically via social media, blogs, and other digital mediums. False reviews, messages to their allies, and wild accusations can be used. This aims to discredit their work or character, reducing their credibility.
Social Isolation: Efforts to detach victims from their networks of support, including friends, colleagues, and allies. This is achieved by fostering mistrust and discord within these circles, often through the dissemination of rumors or false claims.
Instigation of Self-Doubt: Targeted harassment aimed at instilling fear, anxiety, and self-questioning in the victim. The goal is to lead the individual to doubt their capabilities, beliefs, and value, culminating in their withdrawal from public activities.
The impacts of SAAPP attacks can be profound and extensive.
Victims often endure significant mental health struggles, including stress and anxiety, alongside a possible sense of powerlessness. Professionally, their work may become discredited, and their capacity to collaborate and engage with others severely restricted. Their associates may start doubting them or avoid association to prevent becoming targets themselves.
SAAPP poses serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the right to partake in public life. By fostering a hostile environment, these attacks can dampen public discourse, dissuading others from participation due to fear of similar retaliation.
Addressing SAAPP attacks can be arduous, given their secretive and dispersed nature.
Unlike legal confrontations in SLAPP lawsuits, SAAPP tactics are subtler and more challenging to trace to a singular origin, even when one exists. Moreover, distinguishing between legitimate criticism and malicious attacks can be difficult for casual observers, leading them to turn away from the target of such attacks without further investigation.
In conceptualizing SAAPP, I drew inspiration from the framework and characteristics of SLAPP.
Both SLAPP lawsuits and SAAPP tactics aim to undermine public engagement and silence criticism, albeit via different methods. SLAPP suits intimidate and financially burden critics through legal proceedings, often without intending to win. In contrast, SAAPP attacks seek to deplete the target's morale and reputation, leading to self-censorship, withdrawal from public discourse, and other negative impacts.
The common thread in both is their objective: to quell dissent and dominate public narratives.
SLAPP achieves this through legal threats and financial pressures, whereas SAAPP extends its strategy to include tactics like online harassment and disinformation.
Although SLAPP lawsuits are outlawed in numerous jurisdictions, this does not stop plaintiffs from bringing these types of cases.
Despite their illegality in many places, victims still face significant hurdles in countering them, especially when the plaintiffs are wealthy and powerful. These adversaries often possess the means to sustain lengthy and costly legal battles, placing disproportionate pressure on defendants who may lack similar resources.
This imbalance not only challenges the victims' ability to defend themselves but also underscores a broader issue of access to justice. Despite legal protections against SLAPPs, the reality is that fighting these cases often demands substantial financial and emotional resilience, making it difficult for many to stand against such tactics.
The use of SLAPP suits and SAAPP tactics by some law firms, particularly those representing influential and well-heeled clients like Russian oligarchs, is a disturbing development. These entities are now harnessing their considerable resources to run these strategies in tandem, turning them into not just personal attacks but threats to public discourse and democracy.
This combination of legal and extralegal methods represents a troubling shift towards suppressing dissent and free speech, intensifying the struggle for narrative control and raising serious concerns about power imbalances and individual rights in public dialogue.
SAAPP attacks pose a grave threat, not just to the well-being of those targeted, but to the integrity of public discourse.
By explicitly naming and defining these attacks, we take an essential first step in developing effective counterstrategies and safeguarding individuals' fundamental rights to participate in public life.