A SLAPP suit may look like a civil suit for defamation, harassment, breach of contract, disruption of economic benefit, or invasion of privacy, but its purpose is different. To this end, Justice J. Nicholas Colabella wrote in Gordon v. Marrone (N.Y. 1992): “Without a gun to the head, one can hardly imagine a greater threat to First Amendment expression.” In a typical gag order, the plaintiff usually does not expect to win the case. The plaintiff`s goals are achieved when the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, increased legal fees, or simple exhaustion and abandons criticism. In some cases, repeated frivolous litigation against a defendant can increase the cost of liability insurance for that party`s directors and officers and adversely affect the operation of a corporation.  A SLAPP may also deter others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP lawsuit is often preceded by a legal threat. SLAPP lawsuits raise free speech concerns because of their deterrent effect and are often difficult to filter and punish as complainants seek to conceal their intent to censor, intimidate or silence their critics.
Since February 2018, a group of MEPs has been calling on the European Commission to promote an EU anti-SLAPP directive that would give investigative journalists and media groups the power to demand the swift dismissal of “vexatious complaints” and create a fund to provide financial support to media groups that oppose such prosecutions. MEPs also proposed the creation of a new EU register that would “name and blame” companies that engage in SLAPP proceedings. One of the reasons why MEPs have promoted such a regulation is the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist murdered by a car bomb last October. At the time of her murder, she was prosecuted by Pilatus Bank, a Maltese financial institution, which has often criticized her. Following this case, Malta decriminalised defamation last April: however, the anti-SLAPP amendments were not included. Journalists, watchdogs, activists and others are under threat in the European Union. Often, threats come from authoritarian governments that enact restrictive laws that interfere with their ability to function or receive the financial resources needed to carry out their work. For example, restricting the sources of funding for human rights organizations or preventing journalists from working in parliament. They also come from regulations that favor big tech and give small and medium-sized businesses no chance. But increasingly, these individuals and organizations face another threat: lawsuits known as SLAPP lawsuits. Strategic prosecutions against public participation (SLAPP) refer to lawsuits brought by individuals and organizations to discourage their critics from continuing to produce negative publicity.
By definition, SLAPP lawsuits have no real legal claims against critics. People file SLAPP lawsuits with them because they can either temporarily prevent their critics from making public statements against them, or more often so that critics spend all their time and resources defending SLAPP lawsuits. Given their ability to prevent individuals from exercising their right to freedom of expression, more than 30 states have passed anti-SLAPP laws that make it easier for SLAPP defendants to dismiss the case early on before spending a lot of money on legal fees. In egregious SLAPP cases, an anti-SLAPP law may even require the plaintiff to pay the defendant`s attorney fees. Professors George W. Pring and Penelope Canan coined the term SLAPP in the 1980s after noticing an increase in lawsuits filed to silence public criticism from citizens. Today, in the absence of anti-SLAPP regulation, the happiest defendants can try to find relief in the pro bono defense, including through the free legal defense that some lawyers/law firms offer to those who cannot afford a legal defense. However, the anti-SLAPP regulations are a step forward in ensuring that journalists, activists and anyone who wants to contribute to the public debate are not intimidated by potentially vexatious prosecutions. SLAPP lawsuits are effective because even an unfounded lawsuit can take years and thousands of dollars to defend. To stop or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on matters of public interest often agree to self-muzzle, apologize or “correct” statements. Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to address SLAPP prosecutions.
Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to prevent people from using the courts and potential threats of lawsuits to intimidate people exercising their First Amendment rights. In terms of reporting, news organizations and individual journalists can use anti-SLAPP laws to protect themselves from the financial threat of a baseless defamation case brought by a corporate or investigative reporter.