UIUC Subreddit hits front page, Streisand effect leads to increased attention for Suburban Express lawsuits

Murph Finnicum proudly snapped a screen shot Monday afternoon to remember the 238,881 pageviews the UIUC subreddit received Saturday. Two threads about Suburban Express lawsuits hit the front page of Reddit for a 24-hour period, linking to the UIUC subreddit that he moderates.

The increased buzz about Suburban Express lawsuits also drew the attention of media outlets, causing them pick up a story that they might not have otherwise.

The threads made it onto front-page sections “/r/bestof” and “/r/news” and both detail a letter from Suburban Express to Finnicum, warning him to remove “libelous postings” or face legal action from the bus company. 

One of the viral threads also includes information about The First Amendment Lawyers Association’s offer to help in the case. Two days after the organization posted on the thread, Suburban Express sent Finnicum another letter saying legal action would not be pursued.

Ken White, a member of the lawyer association, posted on the thread, offering his help free of charge if legal action were to be taken. White, who is a member of the State Bar of California, said the network of lawyers would have allowed him to find someone in Illinois to appear in court on his behalf. 

“I’ve gotten a lot out of the legal system, and I like to give something back,” he said. “One of the main flaws is that it is too easy to threaten lawsuits and intimidate and chill and fine people.”

White also wrote about the situation in his blog, Popehat. On the blog, he said social media has led to more media attention on the issue than it would have otherwise.

“When you double, triple and quadruple down on online dickery, you place yourself beyond easy reputational redemption and instead face the full force of the Streisand effect,” White said.

While Finnicum said he is grateful for White’s offer, he said he has mixed feelings about the Ford County judge dismissing the Suburban Express lawsuits Tuesday.

“It sounds like (Suburban Express President Dennis Toeppen is) trying to hide from media attention for a while and resolve things where everyone can’t see,” Finnicum said.

Thomas Betz, directing attorney of Student Legal Services, has been an attorney at the University since 1986 and said this is not the first time he’s dealt with Suburban Express-initiated lawsuits.

“My dream would be to never see another lawsuit by Suburban Express,” he said. “I think it’s possible.”

Betz said the attorneys at the University will continue to keep an eye out for the lawsuits that could resurface in another county.

The revised terms and conditions Suburban Express that were posted on its website Monday eliminated Ford County as the venue for any legal action. However, Betz said his biggest concern is that by not specifying a venue, the company could file in any county it chooses to until it is challenged in court.

Scott Mulford, press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said after receiving about half a dozen complaints against Suburban Express, his staff recently began looking into the issue.

While the number of complaints doesn’t come close to the 126 lawsuits that were filed this year, Mulford said the quantity is irrelevant.

“If we receive a consumer complaint about an issue from any individual, we will follow it up as best we can,” he said. “We have a small mediation staff that is part of the consumer division, and they make phone calls and send letters.”

Betz said Student Legal Services also felt it was necessary to directly contact the Attorney General’s Office.

“Many students were having difficulties in articulating what the issue was,” he said.

Betz said many students filed motions against the default judgment they received for not attending their court case over spring break. But their March 19 cases were dismissed Tuesday.

However, Betz said those who have already paid fines won’t get refunds.

“In the age where you can immediately share displeasure on the Internet, it really does not pay off to use a sledge hammer to kill a gnat,” Betz said. “It’s an extreme response to a trivial issue.”

Corinne can be reached at cruff2@dailyillini.com.