Bloggers Take Care! Liable laws work for blog post too. (August 31, 2010)

Posted: August 31, 2010 by Mike Hubbartt in Academia, Environmental Posts
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by Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Blogs are enhanced when readers take the time to agree or disagree with posts seen online, but there is a common misconception that first amendment rights allow people to post anything they wish about another person or group with impunity. Sorry. Not correct. Slander is not protected by the first amendment, whether it be in printed media or online media.

Doc Babad recently passed me a link to an article he read in the LA Times that was written by David G. Savage. Check it out. This is an interesting piece and it should serve as a clear warning to those that use the internet to voice opinions should remember that written words should not insult or defame others. It may seem unfair and a form of censorship, but it is merely holding everyone to the same standards, whether their comments are printed online or on paper.

What are you feelings about this situation? Should people be able to say anything about anyone or any group with impunity? Who is or is not responsible for their written views? Let us know how you feel about this situation.

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Comments
  1. Anthony Avery says:

    To some extent this sets a dangerous precedent. The ability to file suit against someone for stating an opinion such as “this dentist stinks” is ticky-tacky at best, malicious in its own right at worst. Malicious remarks that violate another person’s rights should never be tolerated, but if I write a blog post that paints the Phoenix Freeway System in a negative light, is that grounds for a lawsuit? It is my opinion that freeways are a drain on our society, and I provide statements of fact supporting my position. I, for one, will not be afraid of a suit because of the tacit approach I take in my writings. However, if (when?) the day comes that I receive a court summons, I don’t want to have to be the one to set the precedent one way or another.

    • mikeh2013 says:

      Anthony:

      I think the problem comes not from lawsuits being a new threat to writers, but the fact that people today have an unprecedented ability to post their thoughts and feelings in a public forum.

      In the 1980s and 90s computer-savvy people were able to use Usenet to reach a large audience of geographically-diverse people, but most if not all Usenet users were very technical and so the potential audience was a small part of the total population.

      Today most people in the world have internet access, and simple GUI tools exist making it easy for anyone to write and post content. This fantastic ability to write about our personal experiences is wonderful, but it is important for all writers to know they are responsible for what they write. The internet is a public forum, and so the content on it impacts the lives and reputations of people mentioned in posts.

      There are many ways to state positive and negative impressions without insulting or degrading another person or establishment. What internet users need to understand, truly understand, is that posting on a blog is not the same as sending a private letter or email message – it is the same thing as taking out an ad in a newspaper or magazine. People will see it, which can come back to haunt the unwary. Many employers now use sophisticated search tools to see if job applicants have posted on social media, and seeing extremely negative comments could prevent someone from getting a job or promotion.

      Many people feel it is safe if they anonymously leave derogatory posts online, but that is not true. Internet use is traceable. There is always an electronic trail that a determined detective can follow back to the person that posts comments.

      Bloggers can write how they feel, but they are accountable for their words. Mike Wise of the Washington Post learned that recently. He tweeted that Ben Rothlesburger would get a 5 game suspension (not 4 or 6 as posted on the sports blogs) for misconduct earlier this year – he made that story up (supposedly as a joke) and so the Post suspended Wise for 1 month. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com quoted the Post Ombudsman that Wise was fortunate that he wasn’t fired for his tweet.

      Blogs enable people to write about their feelings and impressions and share them with a wide audience, which is fantastic. We bloggers should express ourselves in our chosen media, but we cannot forget that we are speaking to the entire world, not just to a few chosen friends.

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