It seems that the calls earlier this year for a bloggers code of conduct are being met with the courts cracking down on blogger misconduct.
Last week, The Gazette reported on a lawsuit which involved blogger and art gallery proprietor Chris Hand allegedly defaming art agent Pierre-Antoine Tremblay - a lawsuit which is asking Hand to pay $25,000 in damages. The Canadian Press reported another case where the president of Steelback Brewery has filed a $2 million lawuit which alleges an Ottawa-based blogger and sportswriter Neate Sager libelled Mr. D'Angelo on his blog. The statement of claim argues the comments “severely damaged Mr. D'Angelo's credit, character and reputation.”
Whether we are talking about cyber-bullying, uttering threats, or damaging an individual or businesses good name, how far is too far?
As I have discussed in the past, promoting violent action or uttering threats against individuals lives on a blog or message board are a form of criminal activity punishable by law. In the case of Kathy Sierra, the stalking and threats to her life were clearly taking things too far. When the matter concerns uttering threats against peoples lives, freedom of speech advocates should take into account that no person should have to go into hiding, as hiding can and will severely interfere with one's list of places to go and people to see.
Where does one draw the line between freedom of personal expression and censorship when matters concern derogatory comments causing damage to a person or businesses reputation? The Kathy Sierra case inspired fiery debate and resistance against cyber-bullying and speech which incites hatred and violence, calling for a bloggers code of conduct to clearly define how to and how not to behave.
As good an idea as it might seem for bloggers to follow some guidelines in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation, the problem is that nobody is really forced to abide. The rise in the number of lawsuits cracking down on inappropriate online behaviour makes it clear that freedom of personal expression isn't the same as expression without consequence, and as such, the courts appear to be the last bastion of hope in cracking down on the more extreme cases of blogger misconduct.
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Below are some links to product or company mentions in mainstream media:
Protecting the firm’s name on the web | Law Times
Safeguard Your Brand Reputation Online | Inc. Technology
They’ve got their eyes on you—are your ears burning? | ComputerWorld Canada
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | CNW Group
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | PR Newswire
Tips on Safeguarding Your Online Reputation | WSJ Startup Journal