8.6.10

Think before you BLOG

Blogging
can result in
a range of
legal liabilities
and
other unforeseen consequences


Several cases have been brought before the national courts against bloggers concerning issues of defamation or liability. U.S. payouts related to blogging totaled $17.4 million by 2009; in some cases these have been covered by umbrella insurance. The courts have returned with mixed verdicts. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), in general, are immune from liability for information that originates with third parties (U.S. Communications Decency Act and the EU Directive 2000/31/EC). Blogging can sometimes have unforeseen consequences in politically sensitive areas. Blogs are much harder to control than broadcast or even print media. As a result, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes often seek to suppress blogs and/or to punish those who maintain them. Employees who blog about elements of their place of employment can begin to affect the brand recognition of their employer. In general, attempts by employee bloggers to protect themselves by maintaining anonymity have proved ineffective. One consequence of blogging is the possibility of attacks or threats against the blogger, sometimes without apparent reason. Kathy Sierra, author of the innocuous blog Creating Passionate Users, was the target of such vicious threats and misogynistic insults that she canceled her keynote speech at a technology conference in San Diego, fearing for her safety. While a blogger's anonymity is often tenuous, Internet trolls who would attack a blogger with threats or insults can be emboldened by anonymity. Sierra and supporters initiated an online discussion aimed at countering abusive online behavior and developed a blogger's code of conduct.

A few examples are as follows:

1)
In Doe v. Cahill, the Delaware Supreme Court held that stringent standards had to be met to unmask the anonymous posts of bloggers and also took the unusual step of dismissing the libel case itself (as unfounded under American libel law) rather than referring it back to the trial court for reconsideration. In a bizarre twist, the Cahills were able to obtain the identity of John Doe, who turned out to be the person they suspected: the town's mayor, Councilman Cahill's political rival. The Cahills amended their original complaint, and the mayor settled the case rather than going to trial.

2) In January 2007, two prominent Malaysian political bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Attan, were sued by pro-government newspaper, The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad, Kalimullah bin Masheerul Hassan, Hishamuddin bin Aun and Brenden John a/l John Pereira over an alleged defamation. The plaintiff was supported by the Malaysian government. Following the suit, the Malaysian government proposed to "register" all bloggers in Malaysia in order to better control parties against their interest. This is the first such legal case against bloggers in the country.

3) In the United States, blogger Aaron Wall was sued by Traffic Power for defamation and publication of trade secrets in 2005. According to Wired Magazine, Traffic Power had been "banned from Google for allegedly rigging search engine results." Wall and other "white hat" search engine optimization consultants had exposed Traffic Power in what they claim was an effort to protect the public. The case was watched by many bloggers because it addressed the murky legal question of who is liable for comments posted on blogs. The case was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, and Traffic Power failed to appeal within the allowed time.

4) In 2009, a controversial and landmark decision by The Hon. Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an order to protect the anonymity of Richard Horton.

5) In 2009, NDTV issued a legal notice to Indian blogger Chetan Kunte for "abusive free speech" regarding a blog post criticizing their coverage of the Mumbai attacks. The blogger unconditionally withdrew his post, replacing it with legal undertaking and an admission that his post had been "defamatory and untrue" which resulted in several Indian bloggers criticizing NDTV for trying to silence critics.

6) In late 2004, Ellen Simonetti was fired for what was deemed by her employer, Delta Air Lines, to be inappropriate material on her blog. She subsequently wrote a book based on her blog.

7) Delta Air Lines fired flight attendant Ellen Simonetti because she posted photographs of herself in uniform on an airplane and because of comments posted on her blog "Queen of Sky: Diary of a Flight Attendant" which the employer deemed inappropriate. This case highlighted the issue of personal blogging and freedom of expression vs. employer rights and responsibilities, and so it received wide media attention. Simonetti took legal action against the airline for "wrongful termination, defamation of character and lost future wages". The suit was postponed while Delta was in bankruptcy proceedings (court docket).

8) In early 2006, Erik Ringmar, a tenured senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, was ordered by the convenor of his department to "take down and destroy" his blog in which he discussed the quality of education at the school.

9) Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was fined during the 2006 NBA playoffs for criticizing NBA officials on the court and in his blog.

10) Mark Jen was terminated in 2005 after 10 days of employment as an Assistant Product Manager at Google for discussing corporate secrets on his personal blog, then called 99zeros and hosted on the Google-owned Blogger service. He blogged about unreleased products and company finances a week before the company's earnings announcement. He was fired two days after he complied with his employer's request to remove the sensitive material from his blog.

11) In India, blogger Gaurav Sabnis resigned from IBM after his posts exposing the false claims of a management school, IIPM, led to management of IIPM threatening to burn their IBM laptops as a sign of protest against him.

12) Jessica Cutler, aka "The Washingtonienne", blogged about her sex life while employed as a congressional assistant. After the blog was discovered and she was fired,[64] she wrote a novel based on her experiences and blog: The Washingtonienne: A Novel. Cutler is presently being sued by one of her former lovers in a case that could establish the extent to which bloggers are obligated to protect the privacy of their real life associates.

13) Catherine Sanderson, a.k.a. Petite Anglaise, lost her job in Paris at a British accountancy firm because of blogging. Although given in the blog in a fairly anonymous manner, some of the descriptions of the firm and some of its people were less than flattering. Sanderson later won a compensation claim case against the British firm, however.

14) On the other hand, Penelope Trunk wrote an upbeat article in the Boston Globe back in 2006, entitled "Blogs 'essential' to a good career". She was one of the first journalists to point out that a large portion of bloggers are professionals and that a well-written blog can help attract employers.

15) In Singapore, two ethnic Chinese were imprisoned under the country’s anti-sedition law for posting anti-Muslim remarks in their blogs.

16) Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer was charged with insulting the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and an Islamic institution through his blog. It is the first time in the history of Egypt that a blogger was prosecuted. After a brief trial session that took place in Alexandria, the blogger was found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mubarak.

17) Egyptian blogger Abdel Monem Mahmoud was arrested in April 2007 for anti-government writings in his blog. Monem is a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

18) After expressing opinions in his personal blog about the state of the Sudanese armed forces, Jan Pronk, United Nations Special Representative for the Sudan, was given three days notice to leave Sudan. The Sudanese army had demanded his deportation.

19) In Myanmar, Nay Phone Latt, a blogger, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for posting a cartoon critical of head of state Than Shwe.

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