For a man who's been diagnosed with diabetes, you'd never guess that about Steven Cooksey. His life choices fly directly in the face of the American Diabetes Association's recommendations for people living with the disease. He maintains a no-grain/low-carbohydrate diet, commonly known as the Paleo diet, and as a result is in fantastic health. Incredibly, because of his dietary decisions, Cooksey no longer requires insulin injections (on his website, he states that before adopting the Paleo diet he was taking four insulin shots a day). With those kind of seemingly miraculous results, it's no surprise that Cooksey wanted to share his story and hopefully help others with what he's learned through his own research and experience.
While trying to help others, Cooksey also has no problem making his disagreements with the ADA known. However, little did he know that by blogging about his success in maintaining his diabetes with the Paleo diet while also lambasting the ADA for its dietary policies would lead to him becoming a target for government censorship.
How do you feel about the government trying to regulate speech on the internet? Should it keeps its paws off of the internet or is some mediation needed from the government? Chime in with your comments.
His website, Diabetes-Warrior.net, features several nutritional recommendations as well as many pointed critiques about the ADA's policies. In a recent post, he rips the ADA and details how he maintained a steady blood sugar without following any of the agency's guidelines.
It's not as if Cooksey is doing anything fanatically radical. Food and diets are probably one of the most blogged about subjects throughout the internet. Dissent also abounds on the internet, and so the combination of dissent and diet shouldn't really be cause for legal intimidation from the government. Disturbingly, that would not be the case for Cooksey.
He suspects he was chosen as a target by the ADA and its government cohorts because he doesn't shirk from passionately criticizing the organization. "I do feel like I've been singled out, I really do," he said. "The Paleo diet movement is really growing. I'm sure there's hundreds of Paleo blogs out there, but here's the thing: there's not many that call the ADA drug-pushers or grain-pushers. I have utter disdain for those organizations."
It was that unwavering disdain for the ADA that likely earned him the censor-happy attention of the organization. Earlier this year, Cooksey spoke out against an ADA supporter at a diabetes seminar and, if his website is any indication, it's not hard to imagine he probably didn't mince his words. Shortly after the event, though, he received a notice from the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informing him that, because he was blogging about his positive experience with the Paleo diet and offering up advice to readers and acquaintances, he was illegally giving dietary advice without a proper license.
After making some changes to his site, the content of his blog has since been deemed within "substantial accordance" of the law, but the specific law the Board is supposedly enforcing is a hoary law that leaves innumerable questions unanswered. I mean, this is the internet. People blog about their diets and foods they like, they share advice about diets, they consult with each other for new ideas. It's not like Cooksey was doing anything illegal or causing anybody harm and the Paleo diet isn't exactly uncommon these days.
He also contests the claim that he was accepting payments for the advice he was sharing with people on his blog. "All of my information is free," he said. "I got that information from other blogs and books. It's just all consolidated on my site."
Cooksey disputes the claims of the NCBDN that he was in fact receiving some financial compensation. "They were raising hell because I was giving advice, advising, and counseling. They had an issue with the selling part, which was the biggest strength of the complaint filed against me."
"I'm not selling advice, I'm not," he said. "I was just offering people help and some support."
Who knew helping out your familiars would land a guy with such heavy legal attention. Cooksey has since filed a lawsuit against the NCBDN alleging that they violated his right to free speech. However, the NCBDN will likely argue that they're looking out for the good of the general public by limiting the amount of information Cooksey is allowed to share on his blog. Still, it's not like he's running a hitman service; it's a diet blog.
Sarah A. Downey, a legal analyst with Abine, doesn't exactly see where Cooksey could possibly have been doing any harm to anyone. "It doesn't seem here that he was getting paid to be a dietician," she said. "The public safety argument is a good one, but you can't just apply it wholesale."
Even in the event that Cooksey could have received compensation for his advice, Downey still isn't sure that he's doing anything wrong. "It would be a stretch of the definition of commercial speech," she said.
Still, whether Cooksey is able to successfully sue the NCBDN for violating his right to free speech, the ramifications of the attempt to censor the blog are already being felt. "My speech is more guarded now," Cooksey admitted, referring to the tone he takes these days on his blog posts. "I'm not as direct in saying that you should eat like me. I think you should eat like me if your lifestyle requires you to take drugs, but I try not to say that diabetics should eat like me. But I try to stay clear of talking directly."
Although Cooksey's taming of his diabetes makes his ability to share his experience a deeply personal mission, the legal issue extends well beyond the instance of one blog or one blogger. The case is a microcosm of the totality of freedom on the internet, the right for any of us to openly speak on the web without the fear of obstruction or a muzzle. Cooksey hopes that something positive will come from this saga. "Obviously the law firm [he's being represented by The Institute for Justice] and I want to prevent the restrictions of freedom of speech." He continued, "I also want to use this increased attention to highlight and bring to the forefront this problem in the diabetes industry."
Asked if he believed it was his constitutional right to blog freely about his opinions and nutrition, Cooksey makes a deliberate pause before replying succinctly, "Hell yes." Apart from trying to challenge the information circulated by the ADA, Cooksey doesn't neglect the greater importance emanating from his ordeal: freedom of speech. "We know that the government wants to grow its power over the people, and this may seem like a minor instance, but if I can help protect the encroachment of our freedom of speech." He adds, "I welcome this opportunity and I would like to be a part of that."
Tell us what you think about Steve Cooksey's story. Anybody out there had a similar experience with a blog you run? Do you think Cooksey has a pretty solid lawsuit against the NCBDN? Share your reactions below.