Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blogging, the Internet, and First Amendment Rights

I saw an article recently about how a blogger was sued by someone they blogged about. I don't know all the details but it was something about a person who had been hired by a public office to handle mortgages and refinancing and was allegedly involved in mishandling other real estate transactions in a previous position. The blog post resulted in the person losing their job so they sued.

This made me think about the whole libel, copyright, freedom of the press, and First Amendment rights issue. If you type the words 'blogger sued' into any search engine you will get a whole list of results - including the case of the Benihana restaurant in the Middle East who sued over a bad online review. You will also find cases which include ones where copyright enforcement agencies make a living suing bloggers. And you will find out that the Internet is the wild west of information these days. There are many precedent setting cases and issues out there that have been resolved. Our current laws are similar to the Dewey Decimal system - comprehensive until technology exploded in the last 20 years so now full of big holes.

I found one article, which I cannot find again, that discussed this issue where bloggers should act like journalists where they need facts to back up what they say and be careful in phrasing - unless proven, it needs to be an alleged action, etc.

How does this affect me? I write my opinions about things. I write my reactions to articles. I write about my daily life. I write about good and bad situations. These are my opinions. Someone could argue differently.

But then what about all the websites where we are asked our opinions on restaurants, purchases, businesses, etc. This is like giving a good or bad job reference. But if someone solicits our opinion shouldn't we provide it honestly? If I have a bad restaurant experience I will write it on their website or OpenTable, Zagats, or other online service, especially when they ask me. But I will also write about good experiences.

On the issue of lawsuits, why are people so quick to sue? If someone has a bad dining experience because of poor food or service, can't they honestly write about it? If someone disagrees with an article, can't they write their opinion in reply - provided they properly reference, link to, and cite the article?

How does the law affect bloggers from writing about their experiences and opinions? Are we journalists or are we writing for the Op-Ed page? I am not sure but as we live in a litigious society, unfortunately we need to be careful.

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