Dig, if you will, a picture: you’re a person with a remarkable story and you want to share it with others. This being 2012, the easiest and most effective way to share your message is through the very thing you’re reading right now: the internet. You start a blog, you post testimonial, you offer up opinions about some of the goings-on in the world as it relates to you and your story, and you even provide some feedback. Pretty standard, hm?
You could probably go to Google’s homepage and type in any three random words in the search bar, click “I feel lucky,” and most likely find a blog that fits the above description. This is the internet, people blog, people opine, people compare stories as a way to learn more about the world or themselves. You’re making some productive use of your experience and opinions but, more importantly, you’re not making anybody else’s life inconvenient. You’re blogging. As things go, you could do much worse.
That is, unless you happen to compose that blog in the state of North Carolina. The Tar Heel State recently sent a notice to one Steve Cooksey saying he wasn’t able to correspond with his blog readers about dietary choices and recommendations related to diabetes. It isn’t surprising that readers would look to discuss their diabetes with him because he himself is a diabetic but, through a radical diet change, was able to actually to get himself into a state of health where he no longer required multiple insulin shots per day yet still maintains a normal blood sugar level. However, because Cooksey was sharing advice from his experience and self-education through his blog, according to the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition, he was violating the law by giving dietary consultation without a license.
The board initially sent Cooksey an annotated list of examples from his website where he supposedly broke the law by giving advice. Cooksey complied by ceasing his blog posts where he answers readers’ questions, making his disclaimer more prominent, and taking down his “diabetes support package links.”
Although Cooksey agreed and revised the site so as to make it more law-compliant in the eyes of the NCBDN, he’s since filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that his rights to free speech have been violated.
In a statement released by the NCBDN, its policies do state that no person without a state-approve license can provide something it calls “nutritional care services.” This befuddling and vague descriptor includes:
I mean, it’s not like he grabbed a stethoscope, put on a white coat and went around collecting blood samples from diabetics. The guy was blogging.
As I said, Cooksey’s story is a remarkable one good on him for wanting to share his experience so that others might be inspired to try his method. He clearly states on his site (it’s all the way at the bottom in bold) that he’s not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist; he’s just blogging to share his journey and, since he’s someone with some experience, readers are wont to ask for his input on certain topics. But should keeping a blog about your personal interests and experience, a blog that happens to attract people looking for more information about your experience and knowledge gained from that, be subject to censorship?
It’s a small story with large implications because several parallels can be drawn across the internet where, like Cooksey’s situation, other sites might be found to be in violation of the NCBDN’s regulations. Is this claim that he was offering dietary consultation a matter of language choice? Had he chosen to couch his answers to readers’ inquiries in a more indirect manner, would that have circumvented any problems with the NCBDN? If that’s the case, then this really might be a farcical legal adventure the state of North Carolina has initiated.
However, this is a specific law that isn’t native to the internet. It was passed as official law in 1991, years before the internet and many more years before any of us started to tap into the real communicative potential of the internet. The law couldn’t have anticipated that there would one day be blogs where non-professional but experienced people might share on the internet their examples about life changes they’ve enjoyed due to the choices they made. Even still, thinking pre-internet, what’s to distinguish between one blogger communicating to a reader some advice and somebody standing in a grocery store asking the stranger next to them if they think whole milk or skim milk is better for them? No government is going to outlaw that two-person communication in the dairy aisle, so why make the case on the internet just because the sources of the voices aren’t standing next to each other? More, this entire law undermines the very purpose for online forums existing; or, at least in this case, any online forum that deals with the communication of health or diet information.
Sometimes these legal issues come around and you really have to wonder if the people who raised this whole stink, in this case the NCBDN, are even remotely familiar with how the internet works.