Is it illegal to spite-donate?
May 24, 2023 5:45 PM   Subscribe

You are not my lawyer; this is not legal advice. I like to annoy local transphobes on Facebook, so when one posted something else to stir the pot, I responded by donating to an LGBTQ+ PAC and a charity in his honor. I posted that I’d done so along with screen shots. He quickly told me to remove the post or I’d be hearing from his lawyer.

I’m pretty sure he’s bluffing but I don’t have time for that noise so I did remove it, posting instead that he inspired me to donate - but without the screen shots. (Yes, as I’m typing this I do realize how silly this is) Anyway - what might that letter from his lawyer have said? What kind of legal action would there even be to pursue in that instance?
posted by ferociouskitty to Law & Government (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does "in his honor" mean that you said the donation was coming from him, or that you gave them his contact information?
posted by amtho at 5:51 PM on May 24

I've donated to Planned Parenthood many times in honor of Mike Pence. The former Vice President and his ilk have yet to sue me.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:51 PM on May 24 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: amtho, I don’t know his contact information. I used my own contact information. Both of these orgs allowed donation in honor or in memory of someone.
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:56 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

I guess if you donated “in memory of” him it could be considered an oblique threat...
posted by staggernation at 6:05 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Feels like that kind of 'in honor of' stuff is legally meaningless. Sort of like puffery. In exactly that sense, no reasonable person would think your screenshot is an actionable claim that this person supports that cause.

I suppose the lawyer could try to claim you were defaming the person but that's just nonsense, you're making no claims about that person, only a claim about your own motive.

I say go forth and enjoy, I am not a lawyer in any sense and obviously cannot be giving your legal advice.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:07 PM on May 24 [15 favorites]

As someone who has been the recipient both of defamation lawsuit threats and respondent on actual defamation lawsuits in multiple legal jurisdictions throughout the world, I can say with confidence, that if you are in America feel free to entirely ignore this threat.

The threshold of proving damages when bringing a defamation lawsuit in the US is so high, just ignore what a random transphobe on the internet has to say about it. In addition, if you are in America and this person plans to sue you from abroad, there are federal laws preventing the enforcement of foreign defamation settlements here.

This is one of their favorite things to threaten and it is almost never followed through because it is laughably ridiculous.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 7:03 PM on May 24 [28 favorites]

Not a lawyer — While the language some organizations use can conflate donating in somebody's name with donating 'in memory' or 'in honor', it's still a donation made by you and not by the other person. The only restriction I'm aware of (outside of those relating to political donations) is that the person in whose honor you are donating can't claim it as a deduction on their taxes.
posted by theory at 7:13 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Haha sue you? That’s hilarious. For what?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:42 PM on May 24 [8 favorites]

Broadly speaking, if someone issues a legal threat without it being signed by a lawyer on the letterhead for their firm then not only is it meaningless, it actually means they have no specific intent to follow through. Ever.

…if they were gonna really do anything you’d have received a letter from a lawyer with no prior notice. Dude is blowing hot air.

I am not a lawyer, but the above has been my repeated observation in life.
posted by aramaic at 9:01 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

Not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but...

You can donate to a PAC in honor of someone, but not on behalf of someone. You did it in honor of him, so you are fine. He might have been referencing some sort of harassment claim - which again is blowing steam.

In the future just donate on behalf of "some internet shithead" and post that instead. Same effect.

Thanks for your advocacy.
posted by Toddles at 9:46 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I gotta say - inflaming bigots doesn't actually help marginalized people. In fact, it can be harmful by making bigots double down and become even more radicalized to prove their allegiance to whatever shitty thing they believe.

I say this from personal experience, because when I've been in internet arguments, when excitable white people dogpiled racists in BLM internet arguments, or misogynistic men after MeToo, a few of the assholes then got so mad they scapegoated ME (not the people who had riled them up) and sent me terrifying threats. The "fun" inflammatory comments of those supposed "allies" directly led to increased rage and threats towards me, giving me incredible anxiety for a protracted period of time. Increasing the heat in these conversations is almost guaranteed to cause fallout for people more vulnerable than you, for instance, gender-expansive people he encounters in real life.

It'd be way better to either have a measured and respectful and informative convo that will actually be productive to educate the bigot and anyone else reading along... or just turn off the computer and go for a walk.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:31 PM on May 24 [56 favorites]

There's enough legal advice here so Imma ignore that part.

IMO you should reply saying you're looking forward to hearing how his lawyer is going to be spending his money.
posted by gible at 10:46 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]

Surs, just put it as "in honour of" cause the extra u adds that Canadian eh that gives you just enough leeway!
posted by Meagan at 4:02 AM on May 25

Illegal? No. Still too in-your-face for most people, in addition to what nouvelle-personne so well articulated.
posted by yclipse at 4:16 AM on May 25

heyo this wasn’t your question but you’d probably do more good for trans ppl by picking a random Black trans gal’s gofundme or mutual aid fund and throwing that $$$ directly toward her immediate needs
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:25 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]

Yep. But to be very clear, do not tell the person who's being an asshole online that you did that re: donation to an individual's needs. No screenshots, no details that would identify the specific fundraiser you contributed to. Don't draw an asshole's attention to any specific trans person in need, just because it's fun for you to ruffle feathers.

All of that said, to the original question: If you're in the US, people can try to sue you for any damn nonsense. So the letter could say absolutely any nonsense that he wants, as long as he can find a lawyer willing to take his money to write a silly threat. It's vanishingly unlikely he would get anywhere with an actual lawsuit, but he could cost you some annoyance and some time and maybe even the cost of a legal consultation of your own just to be sure you know the process to get his nuisance lawsuit thrown out.
posted by Stacey at 8:44 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

IANAL You did a legal thing, donated in someone's honor. In this instance, you did this as a political act. You publicized your action. I think this is covered by free speech, and not covered by any law prohibiting it, and I would put the post back up because I fucking hate bullies.

Call the PAC and ask for their advice. The question may have come up before.

I see a lot of suggestions on Ask.Me that you shouldn't do anything to rile up the bad guys. I recommend being calm, civil, not name-calling. Measured and respectful and informative is exactly the way to go. In this post (add screenshot) Jay Blaw expressed transphobic and hateful ideology. To further the safety and freedom of trans people, I have made a donation to PAC. (screenshot) Jay Blaw is in charge of their feelings and response and is being inflamed by toxic assholes on social media all day long.

I consider the Jay Blaws on FB, Twitter, etc., to be beyond salvaging. But their friends, family, co-workers see their feed, and they may be reachable, so I pitch my interactions to people who may need education and a different point of view. If social media didn't work, the Proud Boys,trans haters, and other fuckers would have no members. Use social media as effectively as possible to stop the war on trans people that the Extreme Right is starting.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on May 25

The answer above quotes me but isn't what I'm suggesting. I am not interested in people performatively donating and then boasting about it. That still inflames the bigot.

I want people to EDUCATE the bigot. Rationally debate them. Counter their misinformation. Here's an example I'm making up, related to the Target tucking bathing suit mess that's going around on social this week. Here's an expanded version of a few comments I left in such threads today. I wish more so-called "allies" would do this:

In this post, Name claims that "Target's new bathing suit is trying to groom children and turn them trans". This is false information and drawing a nonsense conclusion.

1. Target's new bathing suits are for adults and teens, not children. Have you noticed that most people posting about them are showing close ups of the tag only? The reason is because they're deliberately concealing that they're holding an adult sized swimsuit. They're lying to inflame people. Don't fall for it. We need to think critically and consider what is being shown to us and what's being omitted.

2. "Grooming" means "to try to break down the boundaries of a vulnerable person to sexually molest them". Target isn't doing that at all. Target is providing a swimsuit with an inch or two of extra width in the crotch fabric, so that people can better hide their genitals. If anything, they're making the swimsuit LESS revealing and less "sexual". And by helping people find clothing that covers more of their bodies if they wish to do so, Target is helping people feel more physically comfortable as they engage in a healthy activity like swimming. It's more honest to characterize the swimsuits as a way of helping people feel more body positive and thus improving their mental health. Nowhere is the act of "grooming" present in these swimsuits. Body shape is separate from sexual intercourse. Gender expression is separate from sexual intercourse.

3. It's completely unreasonable to think a bathing suit can "turn a kid trans" or change their gender. If that were the case, there wouldn't BE trans people, since everyone would just be the gender of the first bathing suit they wore. Sound silly? That's because it is. Clothing doesn't turn people trans.

4. Trans people, especially trans youth, have devastatingly high rates of self-harm due to other people's cruelty towards them. If you really wanted to protect children or vulnerable people, you'd want to help affirm their bodies and their right to feel comfortable. Interesting to consider why you're not doing that.

A post like that
Defuses the bigot's rhetoric
Doesn't inflame the bigot
De-fuses the conflict with the calm tone
Educates bystanders with facts
Lowers the perceived expertise of the bigot
Counters the false narrative the right has invented
Positions the marginalized group as worthy of protection - rather than leveraging them as a stick to poke a rabid bear which is what these performative donations do.

Y'all have got to stop "performing" your "allyship" and try to actually DO THINGS THAT HELP ACTUAL PEOPLE.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:14 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

As far as I can tell, there's nothing legally that can stop you doing spite or rage philanthropy, as it's a part of First Amendment free speech rights. So far, and I did look around, anything that had to do with spite philanthropy are warnings to charitable organizations about how they need to stay apolitical when donations become very political.

There was a rush of donations to Planned Parenthood after Rush Limbaugh's death (pun intended) partly to highlight his legacy of misogyny.
posted by kschang at 1:40 PM on May 25

I can absolutely get behind the well-founded and thoughtful advice from nouvelle-personne, but I can also completely understand the perfectly reasonable desire to poke the bully in the eye. My inclination would be to do both. Neither is illegal by any stretch.
posted by dg at 8:30 PM on May 25

Best answer: Bear in mind the adage 'In the United States, anyone can sue for any reason.' (I'm assuming you're in the United States.) IANAL, but my understanding here: It's not technically true, but you could stretch lots of unlikely situations until they looked like a theoretically/legally plausible reason. Here, e.g., your target could say you're defaming them.

I'd certainly like to think they would lose the case, in a laughable manner. But most if not all of the answers above seem to address whether you would lose more than they do whether you could get dragged into a suit, where you would have to defend yourself, at all.
posted by troywestfield at 5:00 AM on May 26

Mod note: A couple deleted. Please remember to respond directly to the OP to help with their question rather than arguing, debating, or discussing other people's answers.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:59 AM on May 28

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