Blogs and their writings has heralded a new communication tool that can influence public opinion. Blogging has become a way for the voice of the people to be heard. We must be careful, though, not to abuse our power through thoughtless acts that hurt the credibility of bloggers and blogging. This wrong way to blog can cause Libel and slander categories of defamation.
Courts have begun treating them the same as the only difference between the two is that libel is a false written statement about a person, place or thing that harms his/her/it’s reputation while slander is the verbal act of the same offense. Whether blogged on the internet or whispered offline to your mother, the common denominator is that what is said is false.
As long as it is the truth, I can say whatever I want. Well, sort of. As crazy as it sounds, truth is not the silver bullet defense for every case of libel or slander. A judge may require that besides being true the information relayed is in the public interest to know.
So reporting that the CEO of a major corporation had been caught pilfering money from the employees retirement fund would probably get dismissed from civil court whereas telling the world that your neighbor has body odor could get you into more trouble than you want. Even if it were true, why would it be in the public interest to know that your neighbors has body odor.
If you think that something is not good, you are certainly free to tell anyone within earshot as long as you make it clear that it is your opinion on the subject. Likewise, if a person puts forth a negative sentiment with regard to their experience with you and it is clear to any reasonable person that it is their opinion, your legal recourse against them is severely limited.
One of the major problems courts around the world are having to deal with is the one of jurisdiction. If you live in the US and libel someone who lives in Australia where exactly does the case take place and who’s laws do we go by? Several cases have set a scary precedent that leans towards being able to sue anywhere around the world for libel published on the internet.
Then there is the issue of third party liability. Say you are a responsible blogger who is careful about her posts to avoid a troublesome libel accusation. One of your readers posts a libelous statement on your blog. Can you be held responsible for that persons actions?
Well, so far the law has only made provisions for internet service providers stating that they cannot be held responsible for how their customers use their services as it pertains to defamation.
Whether you would be held responsible may come down to if you moderate your comments. If you allow comments to be posted automatically, you may be protected. It may be a different story, however, if you approve comments before posting them.
It could be argued that you’re posting of the comments equates your agreement to them. To date, no one has shown up in court to argue this, hence the fact that we are kind of forced to make it up as we go along.
Companies are treading this still unfamiliar territory with caution and skepticism. Company executives, public relations people and legal experts are just starting to figure out how they can utilize the potential of business blogs without subjecting themselves especially their companies to possible complications.
Indeed, some companies are hesitant to plunge into the scary world of blogging for fear of encountering legal and business risks inherent in blogging such as libel, slander, lawsuits and disclosure of confidential and proprietary information.
Defamation is a tricky issue and one that needs to be tread carefully if one is to avoid landing in court. Here are a few tips to help keep you out of trouble. Note: I am not a lawyer. If you and your blog deal with some highly controversial issues or you’re just not sure how much trouble you would get into if you published that post I recommend getting in touch with a legal professional to get the best advice.
A bit of a joke
Parody and satire are also protected. If they weren’t, Saturday Night Live and South Park would have never made it past the first episode. They have large legal departments to advise them you more than likely don’t. Criticism of a public performance such as a symphony, a play and even a book is protected under the Fair Criticism and Comment clause.
Extreme exaggerations that no reasonable person would believe are not considered defamation because, quite frankly, they are unbelievable. Be careful though, this type of writing takes a certain knack, and could easily backfire on you. Have a reasonable person proofread your entry to make sure it passes the test.
Now the internet contributes some interesting layers of complication to the whole blogosphere. Instead of being contained in a localized area, libel has the potential to cross international borders and not every country handles these cases the same.
Change the names
far the easiest thing you can do is to change or to avoid using the name of the person you are talking about and to strip away as much identifying information as possible. If a reasonable person can visit your hometown and quickly identify the mealy-mouth cow you blogged about online, you might want to do some editing.
Make use of a disclaimer
Something as basic as by making use of this blog site, you agree that the opinions expressed are the property and responsibility of their respective owners may provide some defense in the event of a lawsuit. (Check with a real Lawyer please).
Watch your language
Be sure to use wording that makes it clear that this is your opinion about the subject. Statements like, That product is no good makes it sound as though you are stating a fact when in all actuality you are making a personal judgment about the product. At least as far as the law is concerned.
It is a risky world out there and the blogosphere is no exception. For companies who are contemplating on setting out into the world of corporate blogging, it is in your best interests to have knowledge of some basic dos and don’ts of corporate blogging.
First on the agenda is do determine whether your company needs a corporate blog. A blog might be inappropriate for your company. Not all corporate cultures can tolerate the open, direct communication inherent to make a corporate blog successful.
There are instances where blogs could not be reconciled with business practices and regulations. Clearly, there are risks to consider. Risks lie mainly in the content and the character or tone of comments which admittedly can only be censored to a limited degree.
Do engage your audience in lively and substantial conversations. Take into account what they say and reply to their comments. Respond in a professional and businesslike manner whether the comment is positive or negative. Allowing comments from your audience will definitely mean some complaints and criticisms.
Don’t take them personally. Respond honestly and your company credibility will rise. Allowing audience to make comments is a distinct characteristic of blogs. Openness is important for successful blogging. That said, use a feedback filter or comment moderation to monitor and control comments and delete comment spam (useless comments).
For a blog to accomplish its mission, do update regularly. Post frequently and consistently, daily or weekly, at least. Do be generous with your links. Linking is one reason why blogging has become a popular online communication medium. The best corporate blogs, more often than not, have lots of links in each blog post.
Do draw up a set of corporate blogging policies. Set limits on what information can be made public. Make clear what is allowed and what is not. Legal issues crop up in blogging. It is better to have some safety nets. In drafting blogging policies, it is advisable to do some research on it and publish proposed policies to get some feedback.
Last but definitely not least, don’t tell lies. Now this may seem like common sense but how common is common sense these days? Really. If you feel the need to resort to lying about a person, you may want to seek professional help in examining why you want to do that. Cause chances are, it’s not to protect the public.
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