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Bloggers: Be Careful What You Ask For

By Larry Burriss, PhD


Murfreesboro, TN – It's often been said to be careful what you ask for. And a recent court ruling may have professional journalists as well as Internet bloggers wondering about their credibility.

Recently an Internet blogger posted several negative comments about a resort, which then sued for libel. What a New York court said was, in essence, no one believes Internet blogs anyway, so what was the harm? The court also said that independent bloggers are different from professional journalists, so they can pretty much say what they want, because, again, few people believe what they have to say.

Of course, there is a good side to this put-down of Internet communications: it gives at least some level of protection to the anything goes style that is so pervasive on the Internet.And the very anonymous nature of most Internet communications almost guarantees readers will treat the comments as opinion rather than fact.

In some ways the court ruling goes all the way back to colonial days, when handbills and pamphlets were often full of invective, parody and slander. Our present day First Amendment is a direct result of government officials trying to crack down on these publications.

Past court decisions have given protection to the most scathing parodies of public officials, and in some cases even said that since no one believe the parody was true, and since it dealt with a matter of public interest, it was protected.

Of course, a down side to the decision is that the judges made it very clear that newspapers are to be held to a higher standard when it comes to opinions and facts.

The Internet has often been compared to the wild, wild west, where anything goes, and control is almost impossible. In keeping with the wild west theme, this ruling protects the small farmer, while keeping an eye on the professional gun fighter.

I'm Larry Burriss.