Thursday, September 15, 2011

Certain Libel Rules Don't Apply to the Blogosphere

Before I present the story from the Toronto Star allow me to explain something that bugs me about charges of defamation on the blogs.
If you are going to charge someone with defamation please note:
Slander is SPOKEN, Libel is WRITTEN.
Also, defamation (either Slander or Libel) is attacking someone's character.
Attacking someone's argument or challenging his/her argument is not an attack of character. It is debate. Having said all that here is the article:
An Ontario Superior court judge’s dismissal of a blogger’s defamation suit against another blogger who called him a Taliban supporter could help establish new ground rules for online debate.

The decision by Justice Peter Annis distinguishes comments made in the context of the blogosphere — a sometimes vicious and unruly place — as different from defamatory statements made in other forms of publication.

Ottawa blogger John Baglow, a.k.a. Dr. Dawg, told the Toronto Star he will appeal the decision, which dismissed the lawsuit he filed against Roger Smith, a Burnaby, B.C. blogger who called Baglow “one of the Taliban’s more vocal supporters” in an Aug. 2010 online comment.

The lawsuit also targeted Kingston’s Mark and Connie Fournier, the operators of the chat site Free Dominion, where the comment was posted. The site calls itself “the voice of principled conservatism.”

“The effect of this ruling is to suspend the laws of defamation that apply to every other medium and make a ‘Wild West saloon’ out of the blogosphere,” Baglow said.

Smith wrote the comment during a debate that took place over several blogs about the legality of Canadian Omar Khadr’s trial at the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Baglow said he opposes the war in Afghanistan, but is a proud Canadian and has criticized the Taliban as a dangerous regime.

In the judgment, Annis said Smith’s comment was clearly a statement of opinion and consistent with other language in the ongoing debate. Annis also said that instead of responding to the comment, which Baglow could have, he assumed another online identity and discussed legal action.

“A statement is not derogatory when made in a context that provides an opportunity to challenge the comment and the rules of the debate anticipate a rejoinder,” Annis wrote.
Annis also cited the example of conservative bloggers’ frequent nickname for former NDP Leader Jack Layton, “Taliban Jack.”

“No reasonably informed Canadian would conclude that Mr. Layton was defamed by being called Taliban Jack, understanding that this was simply a catchy label attached to him by conservatives to showcase what they consider the weakness of the liberal argument in this political debate,” Annis said.

Toronto libel lawyer Brian Rogers said the decision is consistent with others that govern online commentary, and “shows an understanding of the blogosphere that not all judges have managed to capture.”

“It does certainly send a message that libel suits aren’t going to be a mechanism for holding this method of discourse in check,” he said.

“The forum and the context have to be viewed as an important part in assessing whether something injures someone’s reputation.”

Baglow acknowledges the blogosphere can be a harsh place, but argues the same rules should apply to blogs as they do to newspapers.

“The judge talked about the blogosphere as though it were a conversation, but . . . here it’s published and it stays up forever. That’s not like a conversation,” he said. “There’s always the danger that unless you challenge this sort of thing, people will take it at face value.”

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Scripture to keep in mind

Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth: [17] Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, [18] A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, [19]A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren. [20] My son, keep the commandments of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother. ***Cf:Douay-Rheims Proverbs 6: 16-20

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