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Shake It Off, Taylor: Bad Blood Between the ACLU and Taylor Swift

In the run up to the release of Taylor Swift’s highly-anticipated, new album Reputation, which she announced in August of this year, Swift is not in the spotlight for album press but rather a tricky controversy.

The whole story from the beginning:

Meghan Herning, editor for Popfront, an online magazine, published a post titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” The post explains how Taylor Swift is an icon or symbol for white supremacists and white victimhood, citing evidence from her song lyrics and music videos.

For example, the resemblance in the way Swift addresses a crowd in her “Look What You Made Me Do” music video and a picture of Hitler standing at a podium addressing a crowd. Take a look for yourself:

Credit: Getty Images

Speaking of the significance of the lyrics of the song, she writes:

“I don’t like your kingdom keys. They once belonged to me. You asked me for a place to sleep. Locked me out and threw a feast (what?).” These lyrics are the most explicit in speaking to white anger and affirming white supremacy. The lyrics speak to the white people resentful of any non-white person having a position of power and privilege.

Herning also noted that the far-right news website Breitbart tweeted the lyrics to the song, perhaps acknowledging Taylor as an icon for the far-right and white supremacists:

An atypical interpretation of the song, no doubt, but an interpretation all the same.

Then, on Oct. 25, Herning received a strongly-worded email from Swift’s lawyers demanding the post to be retracted and threatened a lawsuit. William J. Briggs II, Taylor’s attorney, said in the letter:

“It appears to be a malicious attack against Ms. Swift that goes to great lengths to portray Ms. Swift as some sort of white supremacist figurehead, which is a baseless fiction masquerading as fact and completely misrepresents Ms. Swift.”

Herning then contacted the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, who determined the legal claims to be unsupported — the blog post is opinionated and so protected by the First Amendment. An attorney stated that the email was a “completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech.”

The ACLU even referenced one of Swift’s popular songs in their letter:

“Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.”

Now, the ACLU has requested that by Nov. 13, Taylor and her attorney will confirm whether or not they will be pursuing legal action.

This conflict is interesting for a myriad of reasons. Swift and her legal team do not have the upper-hand here. Because Swift is a public figure, her team would have to prove that Herning wrote what she did in an attempt of “actual malice” — i.e. publishing the post with intentions to taint or destroy the popstar’s character or reputation. Secondly, her legalistic approach to handling the situation is not helping her reputation for playing the victim.

Because of the tricky nature and the predicament Swift’s legal team is in, it would be fruitless to expect them to actually proceed with a lawsuit. Despite the wishes of Swift’s attorney, the ACLU made the letter he sent Herning public, adding this situation as an example of free speech infringement.

However this story proceeds, there is bad blood between the ACLU and Taylor — it is certainly no love story.

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Written by Majella Votta

Majella is a 16 year old Irish American who loves reading, writing and musicals, with an interest in politics. She hopes to pursue a career in journalism in the future.

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