“UES Mommas,” a popular private Facebook group with nearly 28,000 members, is generally what you’d expect from an Upper East Side internet mommy group. The forum is filled with vacation advice, nanny recommendations, morning sickness questions, and discussions about the best way to shield one’s child from the eclipse (though not everyone in the group lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan). But after a long eight months with a racist, conspiracy-minded president, coupled with recent images of a horde of white supremacists marching around with torches, it’s become difficult for any space, no matter the stated function, to claim neutrality.
Since its founding by Christine Irwin in 2011, UES Mommas has been in and out of parenting news stories; in 2015, the group was mentioned in a Vanity Fair article about Upper East Siders’ incensed reactions to Wednesday Martin’s controversial book Primates of Park Avenue. Over the years, Irwin and current moderator Mariana Lopez Taormina have issued occasional reminders to the group to remain civil towards one another.
“Drama, bullying or general insults will not be tolerated. We are operating under a 2 warning deletion rule; bottom line- please be respectful,” Taormina wrote in 2014. A year later, Mariana and Christine told members to refrain from participating in what they termed “the vaccine debate,” as discussions had turned into “a war on the page.”
On August 15, a few days after the “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent terror attack in Charlottesville, a lawyer representing two women belonging to UES Mommas sent cease and desist letters to at least four other group members, accusing the women of libel for, among other things, calling the two women “racists.” The letter originated from a series of arguments that escalated when one of the complainants dismissed “white supremacy” as a fantasy and Black Lives Matter as having no “purpose.” This, she insisted, was a non-racist and acceptable statement; calling her a racist in response, however, was apparently not.
“Your continuous engagement in libelous, tortious, wrongful and illegal conduct maligning my clients on Facebook is unacceptable and illegal,” one copy of the letter, obtained by Jezebel, reads. The recipients are accused of limiting the complainants’ “free speech,” a fairly bold argument for a cease and desist letter that demands the removal of social media posts.
The repeated reference to my clients as “racists” “a racist”, “the racists” “Nazis” “white supremacists” “white supremacy” “a bully” “real racists of the upper east side” and threatening to add my clients to a twitter account that ‘outs racists’ are all statements which are actionable under New York State Law for Tortious Interference, libel and slander.
The posts that you have published have no basis in fact and are materially false and untrue. These posts have cast my clients in a negative light and have served to limit my clients’ free speech and to suffer the consequences of your repeated bullying, threats and continued harassment. Please be aware that such behavior is criminal and in violation of Federal and New York State laws.
As you are well aware, one’s reputation and a good name can easily be irreparably damaged by the materially false statements which you have made in a large forum of Twenty-Eight Thousand (28,000.00) members. Maligning my clients in such a manner constitutes grounds for legal action against you.
Although defamation laws do apply to social media networks, this particular legal document demands that recipients cease and desist all speech regarding their clients, not just speech they claim was defamatory, which is an ambitious request. The thread in question appears to have been deleted a few days after the complaint was sent.
“The idea that someone would be upset about the consequences of their own words and try to put that blame on someone else is quite shocking to me,” one of the recipients of the cease and desist, who requested anonymity, told Jezebel.
According to screenshots sent to Jezebel by a group member, things had already gotten heated earlier in August under a post that derided New York City mayor Bill de Blasio for his clashes with the NYPD and for allowing New York to be a “sanctuary city.” A commenter’s explanation of how police departments systematically oppress minorities fell on deaf ears; one of the women who sent the cease and desist declared her admiration for “stop and frisk,” a policing tactic a federal judge found violated the constitutional rights of New York City minorities. Another commenter accused one of the women who received a complaint of “hatred towards white people.”
(In these screenshots of the UES Mommas threads, commenters not directly involved in the legal issue are redacted in black. One of the women who sent the cease and desist is redacted in blue. Recipients of it are in pink, green and purple.)
Neither of the women who retained counsel have responded to a request for comment as of publication time. Their attorney declined to address my questions, citing attorney client privilege, and told me that I do not have the “authority or right” to publish his clients’ names. (That demand aside, we’ve chosen not to identify them.)
On the Sunday immediately following the events in Charlottesville, one of the women who received the cease and desist wrote a strongly-worded post in the Facebook group urging parents to have conversations with their children about race and racism. “Please consider deep reflection on how your ways (yes, YOU) of parenting contribute to either what’s happening in Charlottesville or allow for it to continue,” she wrote, according to screenshots obtained by a group member.
Although the post was largely met with a…