Bloggers should have been closely tracking a recent Ontario Superior Court ruling around expressing opinion on the social web. The case revolved around a suit brought by John Baglow, a former public service alliance executive, who claimed to have been defamed when bloggers on www.freedominion.ca called him, “one of the Taliban’s most vocal supporters.”
Coming from the political world, I have to say these comments were pretty mild stuff. As the judge noted, Jack Layton was routinely ridiculed by his opponents as “Taliban Jack”. This is just the cut and thrust of political debate. And, while Baglow’s suit was clearly a nuisance, Judge Peter Annis did set a couple of very interesting legal standards for bloggers.
First, he said that “an online forum should not be held to the same standard as material published in the media”. Second, he said that because the website in question did not misrepresent the facts but simply stated an opinion, it did not constitute reputational damage. In short, Judge Annis saw the blogosphere as a forum for free speech in much the same way as a conversation between individuals.
Defenders of free speech will applaud the judge’s ruling. As a blogger, I am not sure how I feel about being held to a lower standard than a reporter. While I have great respect for journalism, this summer’s revelations about News of the World and the Murdoch empire suggest the ethical standards of some journalists and news organizations are frightening. Many of us can’t imagine something similar happening in Canada. But, I’m watching a story unfold now where, in an effort to cover a salacious story, journalists aren’t respecting the privacy of an innocent person. So, you can see why I am not entirely comfortable being held to lower standards than journalists.
The blogosphere is a self –regulating environment. But, H+K has a social media code of conduct which guides its employees’ activities online. Other bloggers and even some journalists would do well to follow it too.