Continuing in my blogger outreach series, this post will focus on law that addresses issues bloggers need to know, understand and be conscience about when deciding how to go about starting a blog, conduct blogger outreach or a blog marketing plan.
As the democratization of journalism increases, many bloggers can be considered journalists. One issue with the current Shield Law being debated in the Senate is that some would like there to be a definition on who/what is a journalist. Indeed, bloggers are recognized by the Supreme Court as having the same protections as media individuals and organizations since they engage in similar activities. (Since the Shield Law is currently developing, it is important to note that Shield Laws do not necessarily always protect bloggers). As of now, no such definition exists and the implications of such a definition, could be, well…interesting….and perhaps, dangerous.
But enough about that, as I admit, I’m no politician and I haven’t been following the case the whole three years it’s been going on. My point –> it is important for a blogger to understand some of the issues the law addresses .
As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, but these are concepts that must be considered in the broader media industry. There are many, but this post will focus on defamation and negligence, while part b will cover copyright and privacy.
A person or organization can file suit for ‘defamation of character.’ For content to be considered defamation, a private plaintiff must prove:
- falsity (this includes insinuation or implication)
- about or concerning the plaintiff filing the suit
- exposes the person to hatred, contempt, aversion or introduces an evil or bad opinion about the plaintiff
In addition, the law is written differently when the plaintiff is a public official or a public figure. A public official or figure must prove: actual malice. A public official is defined as someone who has been elected, appointed, presented to a position. A public figure is someone who is either known to the public already or someone who were drawn into the issue. Actual malice means that the false statement was published “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” To determine actual malice, courts will look at the process and extent of pursuing the truth.
Other way defamation occurs comes from misidentification.
- Be conscience of legal terminology. (i.e. accused vs. alleged)
- Take extra measures when any content involves a minor or a private citizen.
- Double-check names or contact the person to fact check names mentioned in posts.
- Before publishing an address, phone number or email, be sure it is the correct contact information for the individual/organization.
- Be wary of depended on internet sources and search engines. This includes wikipedia. =)
- If you do realize a mistake, correct it, and write a retraction. A retraction acknowledges the mistake and re-iterates its correction.
- If you are faced with this issue, truth can act as a defense.
- Satire, parody and hyperbole are not considered defamation.
- Opinion is not considered defamation. But, whether you and the plaintiff agree that the statement in question can be classified as ‘opinion’ is another story.
- Corporations are not public figures. They are judged like private figures.
- There is such a concept as defamation insurance, even for bloggers.
- Each state has a different statute of limitations for how long someone can sue after a posting has been made.
- See here for more extensive details about issues of defamation and libel as it applies to bloggers.
Negligence means that the author acted recklessly beyond that of a reasonably, responsible person would have. Private figures – friends, coworkers, people at the bus station – only have to prove negligence to win their case; whereas, public officials and public figures must prove actual malice.
If you are filed a law suit for what you blogged, the Electronic Frontier Foundation advises you to seek an attorney who is knowledgeable about Anti-SLAPP laws. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and the Anti-SLAPP laws are enforced to help people who get sued for making legitimate, protected speech about public issues.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a link to the The First Amendment Project, which has a helpful FAQ on Anti-SLAPP laws. Please note, that Anti-SLAPP laws currently don’t exist in every state and tend to vary.
Stay tuned for my continuing series on Blogger Outreach, issues to address when developing blogging outreach plans.
Next week: Law Issues Part B, Copyright and Privacy