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British Bloggers face strict journalist standards


Web Tips by Donald K. Burleson

Burleson is co-author of Web Stalkers: Protect yourself from Internet Criminals & Psychopaths, $19.95 by Rampant TechPress. 

Most countries have laws against libel and defamation, but these laws are especially strict in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, countries which strongly respects the rights of people not to be defamed.

The world view of web libel

I applaud Canada, the UK and Australia for their advanced laws regarding libel and defamation, and I hope that the USA soon adopts the same strict laws to defend their reputations.  Fortunately, the USA laws are catching-up to the more enlightened laws of the UK, Canada and Australia, and 17 states now have criminal libel laws for web libel & defamation.

This USA article notes that a jury has awarded 11.3 million dollars against a blogger who committed libel against an innocent woman by posting that she was a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud" on an internet message board:

"Scheff, who bills herself as an educational consultant, "tried to do something to help other parents and she wound up sort of being the object of hateful and vindictive statements," Pollack said. Scheff and her company sometimes get paid for their referrals.

The message of the verdict "is you just can't go out there on these blogs and slander and defame people without having any facts to substantiate what you are stating," Scheff said."

Inflammatory remarks can be criminal offenses

In England, nasty remarks are crimes if they are found to be "inflammatory", as this case where a man was sentenced to 3 years in prison for posting inflammatory remarks on a web site:

"Judge Henry Globe QC, the recorder of Liverpool, told Martin: "The intention of the website was innocent, honourable and well motivated.

"You accessed that website and you abused its use. You posted highly abusive, insulting and racist messages on the site."

UK's strict ethical standards - Truth is no defense

This article "Publish and be dammed" notes that English professionals on the Internet are held to a strict standard for defamation where even true publications are actionable if they tend to defame someone. 

"The author of the defamatory statement will be liable for any damage it is alleged to cause to the reputation of another.

So just as a print journalist may be liable, so too will the message board poster."

Evidently, truth is not a defense in the UK and it's illegal to "smear" someone, even if you are publishing facts :

"Statements are defamatory if:

- they identify a particular individual or organisation (either by name or by innuendo);

- they tend to lower the subject in the eyes of right-thinking members of society such that damage to reputation may be presumed; and

- the statement is published, that is, communicated to a third party."

Evidently, under British law, publishing on the web is exactly the same as publishing in a magazine or newspaper:

"Internet publishers are bound by the same libel laws as print publishers.

Web site operators are publishers who have the usual defences of justification (truth), fair comment, qualified privilege (public interest), and innocent dissemination; and the same onerous evidential burden to prove the truth of the statement, or any other defence."

Smearing by hyperlinking

One common trick employed by web scum is to locate a defamatory web and link to it feverishly, directing reader to the libel in order to achieve their unsavory goals.   The above article also suggests that the simple act of linking to a defamation is considered "circulating the defamation", an act of repeating a libel that is just as bad as the original publication:

"Action is possible against all persons responsible for repeating, publishing or otherwise circulating the defamation.

Further, every day that the defamatory posting adorns a site, and every repetition of the words, for example by the forwarding of an email, constitutes a new publication for which the publisher may be liable."

 

British publishers are liable for blog comments

 

The "Read My Day" blog site in England has published an excellent warning that suggests that British bloggers are responsible for all comments published into their blogs:

 

"Posting comments on the internet is akin to writing the same comments to the letters page of every major national newspaper in the world.  The international scope of blogs mean that claims in any country are possible - territorial limits are a thing of the past.

 

Bloggers must also be aware of their responsibilities as hosts of discussions where comments are invited from readers. 

 

Any defamatory comments made in other posts on the blogger's website may result in the blogger being held responsible for those comments and being sued for libel. 

 

Defamation legislation gives a defence where the 'publisher' (the blogging host) has no knowledge of the defamatory remarks or no reason to suspect the remarks have been made.  This gives some protection to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) but very little comfort where the blogger has read and accepted comments on his/her blogging pages. 

 

A prudent blogger must exercise editorial control over comments to avoid this liability as a publisher of libel."

See my other notes on the outrageous world of internet publishing:

Annoying Anonymous bloggers are now Felons!

US Army blogger demoted for disclosing secrets

USA blogger fined 11 million dollars for posting facts disguised as opinion

Blogger jailed for publishing insults

Bloggers may be liable for blog comments - liability

blogging can get you fired!

Consultant personal integrity and honesty

Internet invasion of privacy, libel and defamation laws courts

Internet linking - Fact Checking and Libel in the USA

Internet linking - verifying Facts to avoid Libel and privacy claims

Internet web false light invasion of privacy and defamation Libel laws

Internet web publishing journalism libel privacy laws

Republishing a libel & internet censoring

US cases on cyber libel in message boards and forums


 

 

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