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Blogging and libel
Posted by: McQ on Friday, November 30, 2007

Shaun Mullen at A Moderate Voice discusses a paper by Glenn Reynolds in which Reynolds discusses the seeming dearth of libel cases in the blogosphere and why that is so.

Shaun provides a nice capsule of the reasons cited by Reynolds:
* The Internet is no bar to libel suits per se and blogs are no more immune from them than newspapers and other publications.

* However, bloggers cannot be sued because of intemperate comments left on their blogs because of a clause in the Communications Decency Act.

*The exposure of bloggers is further limited because they usually blog about public figures and, as is the case with more traditional media, malice with reckless disregard for the truth would have to be proved.

* An ideal target for a libel plaintiff would be a rich blogger who has done substantial original reporting, as opposed to a blogger quoting published material, but few bloggers make tempting financial targets.

* Blog culture itself frowns on libel suits. Blogging economist Donald Luskin, for example, threatened to sue then-anonymous blogger “Atrios,” who has since self-unmasked himself. Luskin withdrew his threat under pressure from other bloggers.

* Many blogs are more like personal diaries and do not make tempting targets for litigation. A number of the largest blogs are group efforts like Huffington Post and Daily Kos that offer mostly opinion, which is not actionable as libel.
I have no doubt that some of this may change over the coming years as bloggers attempt more and more original reporting. All it takes is one legal precedent to start the whole libel thing rolling.

On the other hand, I think Reynolds is right about the fact that the vast majority of bloggers are satisfied to write opinion pieces about public figures and that, of course, will keep them out of trouble for the most part.

But the one thing that is constant about the blogosphere is change, and as we've all seen, as it becomes more and more recognized for the influence it has, more opportunities will open up for bloggers in other areas. What effect that may have on future blogging and libel suits, then, is yet to be seen. However I'm pretty sure that out there somewhere is a hungry and enterprising lawyer who will be more than willing to try to find a way to cash in on the blogosphere. Its the American way.

Then again, maybe not. As Reynolds notes:
“The various protections that the press enjoys, both formally, through the First Amendment, and informally, through culture, are likely to be more robust if people see them as something belonging to Americans generally, as opposed to being something that is the province of a few elite professions.”
To quote Insty: "Indeed".
 
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Comments
I for one, believe that Jim-muh Carter ought to sue you people for your vicious and unwarranted attacks on America’s Best and most Saintly POTUS.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
True bloggers are more or less immunized from suit by the CDA. But what’s surprising is that there haven’t been more strategic lawsuits — meritless lawsuits that are nonetheless brought because of the cost of litigation — to shut down fledgling blogs. I wonder if the prevelance of lawyers in the blogosphere affects this?
 
Written By: Sean
URL: http://www.myelectionanalysis.com
Of course nobody sues bloggers. How much money can some guy living in his mom’s basement have? :)
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://
A plaintiff would also have to show that his or her reputation was harmed as a result of the falsehood... and that doesn’t much happen, given the nature of the blogosphere, which consists mostly of people reading material written by others with similar mindsets (what’s the polite word for ’circle jerk’?) and ignoring anything written by someone with the wrong political outlook.

To illustrate, a liberal who gets trashed on a conservative site doesn’t have much of a reputation to begin with among the conservatives reading that blog, so where’s the harm to their reputation? I can pretty much get away with making up anything I want about Hillary Clinton as her reputation among my readers is already at rock bottom just as the folks at Kos can - and do - say anything they want about Cheney.

Likewise, a liberal targeted by conservatives won’t suffer any harm to their reputation among fellow lefties who tend not to believe anything written on a conservative blog (and vice versa); if anything, those attacked by the other side enjoy a positive bounce to their reputation as their side of the ideological aisle will think that anyone being attacked by the other side must be onto something. How else can one explain the likes of lyin’ Joe Wilson achieving cult status on the left?
 
Written By: steve sturm
URL: www.thoughtsonline.blogspot.com
Most of the blog-libel cases I’ve heard about on the level of this one:
http://orthomom.blogspot.com/2007/11/so-apparently-xgh-has-joined-elite.html

Blogger criticizes local bigwig; local bigwig exhibits a case of thin skin, and threatens/files suit.

Orthomom herself is a victim of this pattern—after criticizing a local politician (school board member, IIRC), she was sued for libel by the politician. The suit was eventually thrown out, but of course Orthomom still had to pay her attorney.
 
Written By: kishnevi
URL: http://
THREE WORDS:

"Safety In Numbers"

Why would someone sue in such a situation? To minimize damage to their reputation.

Sue one blogger for saying something, and there’s a half a googleplex (play on words) that will leap up and defend him online, thereby worsening the reputation problem. Ya can’t sue all of ’em. Luskin is a fair enough example of the quandary.

Most people will back away from that kind of situation, faster than you and I would from some guy in a bedsheet yelling "Allah is great!".

Eventually, that fear of blowback from the rest of blogdom will be overcome, too, but not for quite a while I think.


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us

 
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