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Publishing rumors online

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday April 17, 2010 )

As I’ve so often mentioned, often people mistake freedom of speech with freedom from responsibility. While some countries have laws protecting freedom of speech, that doesn’t necessarily mean bloggers, or blog commenters for that matter, are immune from being sued.

The general rule of thumb when publishing rumors is to use some qualifiers, such as “it’s been reported” or “rumor has it”.

This does offer some protection, but it depends on intent.

Let’s say you have an axe to grind with Company X; for whatever reason. Maybe you’re just looking to stir up a bit of buzz to drive traffic to your blog. You haven’t been able to find any “dirt” on the company so to speak, so you decide to create some of your own.

For example, you post a blog item saying “I’ve heard Company X is about to be investigated by the IRS and rumor has it that its CEO has been implicated in some rather shady dealings”. You’ve used qualifiers, so you’re safe right?

Maybe not.

If Company X decides to get their lawyers onto you they may have a case to sue for libel, if they can prove, as this article on TechNewsWorld states, “the libeling party published a false and damaging statement with actual malice”. Sure, the article states this can be incredibly difficult to do – but it can happen.

The other question is – do you really want lawyers banging on your door? Even if the company were unsuccessful in their suit, the headaches and time involved with such an action may not be worth whatever goal you were seeking to achieve.

Additionally, there’s also this “ethics” thingie – which may be a little unfashionable; but also don’t forget about a lady called Karma – she’s pretty mean.

The digital pen can be far mightier than the sword. A rumor rooted in malice has sunk companies and ruined lives on numerous occasions.

I think it’s important for all of us writing or commenting on the web to think a little about the ramifications of what we have written before hitting the submit button.

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