Blogs, Law and Ethics

    February 11, 2005

Wow, is it me, or is that headline a snoozer for a Friday … Well, law and ethics are becoming very relevant topics in the blogsphere.

Unfortunately this is because they are being overlooked or, quite simply, ignored. As we learn by doing with blogs, we are bound to make mistakes. But these mistakes can cost you your job-or worse.

The latest person collecting unemployment because of blogging is Rachel Mosteller at the Durham (N.C.) Herald Sun. Rachel vented about her job under an ineffective pseudonym. She joins a growing list. Tom Murphy at PR Opinions discusses employee blogging and common sense. It discusses considerations for employees and employers, along with some great links pointing us to more on the topic. To which I will add this one on the need for corporate blogging policies from Poynter Institute’s Steve Yelvington. Bottom line: if you have an e-mail policy, you need a blogging policy.


What’s worse than losing your job? How about getting sued for libel. PR Bloggers have been focused on copyright issues due to the cut and paste nature of blogging. Jeremy Pepper brings us a great report on blogs and libel. And I am not just saying that so he won’t sue me. :-) In all honesty, Jeremy gets snaps in my book for always putting his opinions into his posts and comments. Passion makes for better content and Jeremy is not afraid to be frank about how he feels on a topic. But where do you draw the line?

Pepper interviews the Counsel for The New York Times Co., David E. McCraw, to find out we probably don’t have to worry about it.

Originally, people thought that since blogs had low readership there was no real reason to worry about libel. But, now the way that search engines work, blogs are being easily found – with comments and posts of an unflattering nature.

What happens on blogs now is that posts are being picked up by major media outlets. The lonely, personal essayist is no longer true for blogs. There are now blogs that are influential and being picked up, and if it construed as factual information, there needs to be a level of fact checking. If it is false, the original source – the blogger – may be subject to liability just as much as a newspaper.


It is unlikely that a person of prominence will sue a blog, because of the high hurdle public officials need to take. But, blogs and the potential of libel raise interesting legal issues.

I imagine most professional blogs won’t have to worry about this. A lone rant here and there will probably not get any of us in court (fingers crossed). But let me know if anyone listed to the right needs a character witness. Friday Segue: has anyone seen a case about blogging on Court TV yet?

Kevin Dugan is the author of the popular Strategic Public Relations blog. Kevin is Director of Marketing Communications for FRCH Design Worldwide.

Visit Kevin’s blog: Strategic Public Relations.