The last couple of months have been something of a strain for me. I was busy fighting a petition in court for an order of protection against me, claiming I had harassed someone via this blog and this person feared loss of their job because of the alleged harassment.
I will go into some detail about this case in another thread but suffice to say that, of course, it was without merit and summarily dismissed. I knew this from the start - as did my lawyer - but the wheels of justice can be slow. (My lawyer and I also made a motion for a little-known law that protects citizens speaking out on subjects of public interest in a public form. More on that as well later.)
But the broader issue - one we can open up for discussion today - is a discussion of the Internet, privacy and free speech and how they relate to each other with respect to this blog.
Charlie and I have tried valiantly to keep this an open and lively place for discussion. We have tried to keep it civil. But this case have made me realize that there are some readers who might be making assumptions about what they might believe to be "right" for us to write versus what is legal.
So I put forth these thoughts about this blog and our work.
Charlie and I are bloggers and that's something of a nether world especially for writers/activists who blog. I call myself a citizen-reporter. Both the terms "blogger" and "citizen-reporter" are recognized as media by many government entities. Is this is fair? That's for those in government to decide but I think that longevity and credibility count toward that decision and seems to have worked for me.
That said, neither of us have ever claimed to be journalists. I do the best I can - on a volunteer basis - to report what I hear at events and meetings accurately. But Charlie and I have our biases and institutional knowledge that comes into play when we write. While our writing may end up with some commentary thrown in, you also get the benefit of our experience.
But us not being professionals and not following every reporting dictum does NOT necessarily make what we write illegal. Simply put, it might make us bad reporters but we are not violating any law.
I also want to note that when we make a mistake, we will acknowledge it. (You rarely see this from other media including blogs.)
Second rule: expressing an opinion is not illegal.
First, let's get this cleared up - slander is verbal, libel is written. So unless you heard Charlie or me say something out loud, it's not slander.
Charlie and I can be tough, no doubt. I have not minced words especially when it comes to candidates and their supporters. ( What often gets overlooked is that, early on, we are also pretty fair in our assessments of candidates and their qualifications ).
But again, it is not illegal to state an opinion. As well, understand that if you are a person of almost any kind of public standing, courts will hold you to a higher standard with libel or slander involving actual malice. From Wikipedia on NY Times v. Sullivan:
The Court wrote that "libel can claim no talismanic immunity from constitutional limitations. It must be measured by standards that satisfy the First Amendment." Therefore, in order to protect the free flow of ideas in the political arena, the law requires that a public official who alleges libel must prove actual malice in order to recover damages. The First Amendment protects open and robust debate on public issues even when such debate includes "vehement, caustic, unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."
Which brings us to number three.
Third rule - the Internet is a free and open place, don't forget that.
We all compartmentalize our lives. Most of us wear many hats; parents, partners, siblings, children and even activists.
You can have live your life in separate areas, but if you have then made public some of those areas, don't get upset that there are some who might put all those pieces together, stand back and comment on it.My point is - if you put out information on the Internet that is publicly available, then it's likely to reach a wider audience than you might think. That you may have meant it only for family/friends/associates or you don't believe one activity should be connected to another activity really doesn't matter if it is all publicly accessible.
(Also, please be aware that there such a thing as a screenshot. You can try to cover up or take down something you may have put out but others can easily take a picture BEFORE you so. The person suing me either didn't know about this or forgot it was possible.)
So especially if you are a quasi-public person in the arena this blog covers - meaning, you present yourself as an ed leader or testify on behalf of a group on ed issues - then you might be someone we could write about someday. And, you should realize that people may Google you and find all kinds of things.
It is not illegal to connect the dots.
Fourth - the First amendment.
We all know about this from our civics classes, right? There's a list of amendments to the Constitution and at the top of the list, the first one says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Again, you may not like what is being said. You may feel uncomfortable. You might even feel it wrong or unethical.
It does not make it illegal.
Conclusion: This has never been a rant and rave blog. But open discussion can often be spirited discussion. And, we live in a great big world-wide web world. Just as I often tell readers to talk to their children about the Internet and privacy, it might be worth taking a step back to understand what you put out there.
Before you think - I have been wronged! to the courts! - I urge you to consider what part you may have played in information publicly available about you.
I also urge you to always get a lawyer (the person involved in my case didn't until the very end) because you may save yourself some time, money and embarrassment by NOT putting yourself, someone else and the public court system through a case with no merit.
Lastly, I have worked a long time for my credibility. (I sure there are varying opinions on that credibility but that our blog has gained a name, respect and an audience because of that work means we did something right.)
If you ever believe I have written something about you that is illegal in some manner, it is your right to sue.
I can't speak for Charlie BUT understand, I will fight back.
I'm not going to stop writing or take down threads because someone tells me to (and it's always nice if that "ask" comes as a request with a "please" attached to it and not given as an order).
I will not be cowed by the threat of a lawsuit or even an actual lawsuit.
You better bring real evidence and your "A" game because I will do the same.