Blogging Tips: Keep it legal – How to avoid committing libel
Posted by wholeenchilada on November 22, 2007
Steve Tobak over at Train Wreck has a great post for bloggers on how to avoid breaking a law you might not even be aware of: Bloggers beware: You’re liable to commit libel. While I always try to avoid saying anything negative about people online, I can see how folks writing seemlingly innocent posts might get trapped by the libel monster. Tobak states that only one person has to read your post for it to be considered “published” and the parameters for what is/isn’t libel can be a fuzzy line. Injecting opinions or writing factual statements that later prove to be false can be considered libel. Again, I try to be extremely careful with what I write, but others might not be aware of this potential legal trap, offering bold opinions based on internet news or media gossip that might later be proven wrong. Check out this excerpt:
First, people usually ask the wrong question: “Can a blogger be sued for defamation?” The sad truth is that almost anybody can sue you for almost anything these days. So, don’t ask that question; it’s dumb. What you want to know is your responsibility under the law, and therefore, how best to protect yourself from successful litigation.
To prove libel, which is the same thing as written defamation, the plaintiff has to prove that the blogger published a false statement of fact about the plaintiff that harmed the plaintiff’s reputation. Let’s break that down.
“Published” means that at least one other person may have read the blog. That’s right, just one.
A “false statement of fact” is a statement about the plaintiff that is not true. Truth is the best defense against libel. An opinion is also a defense against libel. But, depending on the context, the difference between an opinion and a statement of fact can be remarkably gray. Context is a big deal in determining defamation.
One thing to watch out for: simply inserting the words “in my opinion” in front of a statement of fact doesn’t magically make it an opinion.
Satire and hyperbole can also be defenses against libel, but again, very gray.
Some good mental food for thought. No matter what type of blog you write, it’s focus or the size/power of the company/person you write about, you need to take care to choose your words carefully. How much would it suck to get served over some silly comment you wrote in a blog? It can happen – be careful out there!