Blogging Rights: Will Legislation Catch Up?

courtesy of jerkmag.wordpress.com

Current law has yet to address the legal and ethical issues of personal online publications. Recently blogs have become an important source for opinion and upcoming news, but should bloggers have the same legal rights as trained journalist professionals?

Although blogs are usually thought of as an independent online publication, many large newspapers and magazines maintain online blogs as well. While it could be argued that blogs were originally used as a sort of online diary, it’s still a portal where an individual can write about anything they want and then broadcast it to millions of viewers with the click of a button.

The ability to remain anonymous with any online posting has created problems with libel and defamation cases. In the 2005 Doe v. Cahill case, a public official wanted to sue online alias “Proud Citizen” for defamation, but needed the person’s identity from Comcast in order to continue the case (Hudson). The Delaware Supreme Court eventually ruled that the plaintiff easily obtaining the defendant’s identity could have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech enjoyed on the Internet, and denied the plaintiff’s request (Hudson). The blogosphere seems to be divided on the issue of anonymity. A prominent non-profit group, the Media Bloggers Association, “does not accept bloggers as members anonymously or pseudonymously. We believe that bloggers should own their own words” (www.mediabloggers.org).

Recently the Federal Trade Commission released blogger ethics guidelines, which were criticized by several groups including the Interactive Advertising Bureau (Morrissey). Some of the guidelines require a blogger to show whether or not they are benefiting from advertisements on their blog, and to disclose if a free product was given to the blogger to write a review (Morrissey). Groups like the IAB claim the guidelines regulate online speech more than other mediums, and that it regulates speech based on the medium rather than the content (Morrissey).

Based on a recent study published in the New Media and Society journal, bloggers seem to share an ethical code similar to the principles behind traditional reporting and established publications. Some of these values included accountability, seeking the truth, and attribution (New Media and Society). In 2008 approximately 113 million blogs were tracked to see how bloggers implemented ethical values in their personal and non-personal publications. Bloggers with both types of publications valued attribution the most, which adds to the reason why a popular blog usually has several interactive links and sources to back up observations.

The rise of the Internet has required the government to accommodate and update the law for new media forms in recent years. Several social and political issues still need to be addressed in order to better regulate online media, such as freedom of speech rights and journalist privileges for bloggers.  Although it often seems that no regulation could handle a limitless media, case law and communication law experts demonstrate that legislation is slowly catching up with an ever-changing form of media.

  • Doe v. Cahill, 879 U.S. 451 (2005)
  • Hudson, David L. Jr. “Blogs and the First Amendment.” Blogosphere and the Law.
  • Nexus, A Journal of Opinion, 2006.
  • Mediabloggers.org/about. Media Bloggers Association. New Rochelle, NY. 2009.
  • New Media and Society. “Doing the right thing online: A survey of bloggers’ ethical beliefs and practices.” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. SAGE Publications. 2009. 9 March 2010.<http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/4/575&gt;
  • Morrissey, Brian. “IAB Says FTC Blogger Rules Trample Constitution.” Adweek.com.15 Oct. 2009. 9 March 2010.