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 V.15 No.24 | June 15 - 21, 2006 

Thin Line

Blog smack—Do you like to talk trash in a public forum without facing the possibility of legal repercussion? Welcome to the world of blogging. According to Shannon P. Duffy's June 2 article on law.com, a judge has ruled that bloggers can't be held accountable for libelous statements made as anonymous comments on their sites.

For those unfamiliar with this aspect of the Web world, a blogger is someone who posts semi-regularly on a personal site. Readers can chime in with written comments that appear underneath the blog, though they don't usually have to give their real names.

According to this ruling, you could go to a blog right this second and comment “Marisa Demarco is a two-bit hack who writes lies and filth and should never ever work in this town again. Also, she is very, very ugly, LOL,” and that would be OK. Not great for the old ego, but it wouldn't endanger whomever's blog you posted it on.

As someone who has a word like "libel" on the brain pretty regularly (hey, I write publicly for a small living), I have to say I'm of two minds about this ruling. On one hand, free speech is what enables my job to exist, but the rules that keep it in check are vital, too. Without the laws governing libel (the act of defaming someone in print), people can destroy reputations and lives without being held accountable. Furthermore, anyone who doesn't consider blogging a media force to be reckoned with is going to become road jelly on the Internet highway.

But let's back up. The story of the lawsuit is this: Tucker Max is a party animal who documents his escapades in blog form. He went to a New Year's Eve party put together by party planner Anthony DiMeo that cost a lot of money to attend. Too many people showed up to the shindig, the liquor ran out, things got ugly and the party ended early. Max blogged it. Commenters posted such tempered morsels about DiMeo as: “I can't believe no one has killed him yet.”

Yeah, those are the kind of people I like to party with (LOL).

DiMeo felt the comments crossed the line and sued Max, even though Max hadn't posted the comments DiMeo considered libelous. But U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled the suit is a no-go, because it would have a chilling effect on the “freewheeling nature” of speech on the Net, according to the article.

I'm not going to say this thing should have gone the other way. Instead, I'll say traditional journalists should be dabbing at those droplets of brow sweat that began forming back when blogs became a real threat, and we were finding our job descriptions redefined. In a world where folks can publish whatever feckless nonsense they want, readers can still find solace in the basics of our work—the job of always shooting for accurate, fair and responsible reporting.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail marisa@alibi.com.

 

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