Former lawyer Jack Thompson has sued Facebook for allowing anti-Thompson groups to post messages that have caused him “great harm and distress.”
Thompson was permanently disbarred in September 2008 but that didn’t stop his vocal criticism of the videogame industry, nor did it soften the attitude of videogamers toward Thompson and his strident rhetoric, many of whom have come together in Facebook groups to share their frustration with his antics. But Thompson says he feels threatened by some of the messages posted by those groups and on Tuesday, he filed suit against Facebook for letting it happen.
There are hundreds of Thompson-related Facebook groups, according to SFGate.com; one potentially dangerous group that’s mentioned in his suit is named “Jack Thompson should be smacked across the face with an Atari 2600.” He also cited a message posted by a user who offered to pay $50 to anyone who sent him a video of themselves punching Thompson in the face.
He said his situation is similar to that of U.S. President Barack Obama, who was recently the subject of another Facebook controversy caused by a poll asking whether or not he should be shot. Facebook administrators quickly removed the poll but as Thompson noted, “Unlike our President, Thompson does not have the Secret Service to protect him.”
But Thompson’s suit against Facebook, like most of his others, has little chance of going anywhere, according to WiredSafety.org Executive Director Parry Aftab, who noted that the U.S. Communications Decency Act exempts services like Facebook from liability for what people do with them. “They are no more liable than the phone company would be for anyone who is calling in a ransom demand,” she said.
Regardless of the legal merits of his case, however, this isn’t the sort of attention gamers need. It may seem like a joke to anyone familiar with Thompson (although in the case of the $50 face-punch bounty, it’s hard to say there’s not some measure of seriousness involved) but to those on the outside looking in, it can appear more serious. Would anyone ever smack Thompson across the face with an Atari 2600? Of course not. (Those things cost money, you know.) But without context, it looks like a threat; and we, the gamers, end up looking like juvenile idiots or, worse, the violent psychos Thompson has worked so hard to make us out to be. Thompson never learned how to tone it down and it cost him his career. We don’t need to make the same mistake.