Where’s the Line?

While I intended to not be blogging over the holidays, I read two days ago that is bothering me…and since it has implications for the blogosphere, I thought I would toss it out there.

First, a hypothetical situation.  A blogger with significant ties to one major political party and proprieter of a high traffic site receives a copy of an email sent by the spouse of a prominent member of the opposition party.  The email was supposedly sent by the spouse to those on a personal email list (perhaps friends, perhaps associates), letting them know their significant other wanted a divorce, then going into detail about who had the children over the next two weeks.

Next, the hypothetical question.  You are the blogger.    Do you publish the email and invite comments?

I ask as two days ago a prominent Virginia blogger did just this.  When commenters (and I was one) suggested it was not proper, the reply was that it was already out there an other blogs were publishing it.  Following my mother’s logic of “two wrongs don’t make a right”, I still did not see how this justified publishing the email.

Several hours later said blogger yanked the email copy but left up the comments…and has since published some very long posts that have pushed the post well down the sites queue of published posts.  Since then I have found only two other blogs that directly referenced the matter, and one of those has removed it.  Another blog references the original post, and offers a rant based in the alleged hypocrisy-I say alleged, as there is no proof that the original email was genuine.

The real question is regardless of authenticity or not, where do we as political bloggers draw the line?  When do personal actions become legitimate grist for the public mill?  This is a critical question for the blogosphere, as we are to date self policing.   We decide what to publish.  We do not have ombudsman offering commentary, and we do not have editors stepping in.

This question has come up several times recently in the Virginia Blogosphere…

One example of this is in the Virginia Political Blog Aggregator (VPBA).  The aggregator automatically publishes email posts by the subscribed/added blogs.  Waldo Jaquith, the provider of the VPBA, decided to pull a post that automatically went up that included a graphic photo.  Much discussion ensued, to which I had the same reaction as I had to the above blogger-this is your joint, and you can serve who and what you want.

Another example was noted earler on this blog, namely the discussion of Chap!, Truro Church, and the vote to dissociate.  Was Chap!’s vote something that should be discussed or that he should be questioned about?

We all have to draw the line, and where we draw it is up to us…I only hope we use good judgement.

It is fair to say “Bwana, having started this, what would you have done?”

  1. Answers:
    On the matter originally alluded to, I would not have published, and I can only hope if the email refrenced above turns out to be a forgery or was disseminated without permissions, that any and all bloggers who posted it or tried to make hay about it also post an apology.
  2. Regarding Waldo-I would have yanked it.
  3. Regarding Chap!-I publish, as I see it as a matter of church administration and not a reflection of faith. However, I likely would not have started the discussion, because I am not bright enough to see the connection between his vote and his politics.

I would also reply to a question by Tucker Watkins, who asks this question in the Waldo discussion:

This raises a very interesting question for me. Does the aggregator or blogger have the obligation to take down a post about someone when it is proven that the post is factually unquestionably false? Let’s say an allegation of a marital affair is posted and when the facts are checked, there is no way it could have been true. Is it proper to allow such slander to remain on a blog? I would really like a few of you who have blogs to answer the question of what you would do if someone posted such in a comment on your blog…

I think Brother Watkins  can guess my answer to his question.  I know where I draw the line.  I hope others will give some thought to where they will do the same.

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5 thoughts on “Where’s the Line?

  1. Bwana,

    Very, very interesting discussion. As a litigator that works on defamation cases, Tucker’s question is particularly interesting. Normally, one can not be held liable for “failing to act”, e.g., to take down a proven-as-untrue and defamatory comment on a blog, but I wonder how a court would view that? That is aside, of course, from the more basic question, of what should you do (as opposed to ‘what will the law do to you if…’).

    Merry 2nd day of Christmas.

  2. Once again Bwana, my brother, you and I are on the same page. Hope you, WMD, SWMBO and the good Doctor had a very Merry Christmas and all of my best for 2007

    Bwana Fan In Vienna

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