by David Melmer

Indian Country Today
January 6-13, 1997

What began as an email campaign on Dec. 2 that was off-base on facts and strong on mission against South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow failed, because of its inaccuracies, to prove its point, leaving Gov. Janklow the decided winner.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved when the governor's office attempted to block all messages from the service provider that distributed the hundreds of messages to his e-mail address.

The ACLU sent a letter to Gov. Janklow on Dec. 15, asking for his response. Keith Elston, executive director of the ACLU of the Dakotas, said the organization was alerted to the issue through press accounts of the incident.

Internet surfers were informed of a meeting that was never scheduled, about a subject that was never proposed, implying that Gov. Janklow was attempting to prevent ceremonial usage of state park land. The message was posted on the internet by Linda Lemonde, of Monroe. Mich. She is known as Ishgooda to her fellow net users.

The ACLU said that if the governor's office blocked messages from Ms. Lemonde's service provider it would constitute two violations of Ms. Lemonde's First Amendment rights. The letter said that if the block occurred because of the message's inaccuracies, it constituted content-based discrimination.

The extent of the blockage would constitute an impermissible restriction on speech. The ACLU sympathized with the fact that the governor's office may have been deluged with messages.

As to the inaccuracies being distributed, Mr. Elston said the writers were not intentionally distributing lies. He said they thought the information they received was accurate; therefore it didn't constitute any violation.

"The governor is a public figure. His response should have been to tear up and throw away, not block which is shutting out everyone," Mr. Elston said.

"The letter is a matter of education. They may have though it was a nuisance with inaccurate information and had a right to shut it down," he said.

The block has been removed, and the determined petitions found other means of passing the letters onto the governor's email address.

The ACLU is defending Ms. Lemonde's right and that of everyone else to say stupid and inaccurate things to public figures. [At no place in the ACLU letter is this assertion to be found.] The line is drawn when it becomes a danger of serious substantive evil rising far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest, Mr. Elston said.

Federal courts have dealt with the issue of messages on the internet. The rulings state that it is the most "participatory marketplace" for the distribution of information to a worldwide audience by citizens with limited means.

The email campaign that Ms. Lemonde orchestrated was successful in its own right. It gathered support for a cause together. However, the information, as Indian Country Today reported in it's Dec. 9 issue, was inaccurate and filled with rumor and misleading information that excited and brought fear to tribal elders.

Since the initial campaign, ICT has corresponded with Ms. Lemonde via e-mail and asked her to detail and provide verifiable information. She provided further information, naming names and giving more specicic information attempting to prove her messages accuracy. ICT could not find verification or any basis of fact in any of the additional information provided.

From now on, when huge e-mail campaigns are organized, you can bet that someone will have their finger on the delete button. It's important to allow the messages to get through; they don't have to read them.

Jim Soyer, Gov. Janklow's press secretary, said he was not aware the governor had responded to the ACLU letter. He said Gov. Janklow may have responded privately but that any such letter did not go through the press office.

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