by: Carol Bryant
True or false: Your opinion if stated online is just that: Opinion and there are no repercussions.
Pet bloggers can be sued for their words.
What you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. According to the website, FindLaw.com, “Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide platforms for users to engage in public, interactive conversations. But if an online comment is hurtful and false, it could set the stage for a defamation lawsuit.”
As bloggers and microbloggers (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), our words carry a lot of clout. Those words can also carry a lot of harm if we aren’t careful in how we choose them and what we say.
Case In Point
As bloggers, we write for the general public. We are journalists in an electronic format. If someone considers your words to be defamatory, false and/or harmful under the guidelines of the law, you just might find yourself in a heap of trouble.
“I think Mary Moran got fired for stealing money from the petty cash account at her job today.”
On Twitter, this is something you might see on a regular basis: Rumors, gossip, perhaps truthful but perhaps not.
What if it isn’t true? Remember those stories told in school that would start in the back of the room and then whispered from classmate to classmate? By the time it got to the front of the room, it might be a completely different story.
Using the above example, just because you said “I think” does not automatically protect you from a defamation claim according to Nolo.com.
Bloggers are often compared to journalists. Journalists spend a large chunk of time with fact finding and weaving them into a story well-told and free of errors. Bloggers are being held to the same high standard. Before submitting comments on a blog (yours or someone else’s) or any form of social media, be absolutely certain you have the facts.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created an e-book of blogger’s rights available for free download. They have compiled a valuable list of blogger legal resources here.
Why bother at all? Ask yourself before you type any statement online two things. I call this my “litmus test:”
A) Would I care if this showed up on the front page of The New York Times tomorrow morning (thank you, Bill Mahr for sharing that nugget)
B) Is it necessary that I write this or am I just having an angry moment?
Most importantly, however, if someone will be harmed by your words, particularly untrue ones, you can be sued. If it’s in writing —and that’s what your tweet/post/status update is: a form of writing— then the affected party has evidence.
What About Product Reviews and Disclosure?
Disclosure is something that must be followed per FTC guidelines. If you read the BlogPaws blog on a regular basis, interact in our community, and/or attend a BlogPaws Conference, we stress the importance and
legality of disclosure.
Legally, you must disclose certain things or risk having action taken against you by the FTC. Read more about FTC disclosure and product reviews here.
In her piece on OutspokenMedia.com, blogger Lisa Barone shares a quick and dirty legal guide for bloggers that I highly recommend. Namely these five myths are dispelled. You’ll have to read her piece for the reasons and what you need to do about them: NOW.
QUESTION: Are you aware of what you can and cannot do as a blogger? Did you know a tweet could get you sued or that a status update could lead to legal issues?
Feedback appreciated in the comments below.