Watch your back.

With the internet now the fastest growing platform for technology, spreading your views is the easiest it could ever be. Although most people wouldn’t consider the legal implications of their ramblings on their blogs, there some that could be considered.

In the 2009 Defamation Act, a wide area of issues related to defamation were addresses, but one of the main issues was internet journalism. Online journalism has taken off more than anyone could have expected in the last five to ten years, but where does that leave the journalist or blogger? Do the same defamation rules apply to online journalism too? It has been widely said that Irish law does not deal adequately with with the pressing issue of online journalism defamation.

The problems that arise from this is that unlike traditional journalism, there are no gatekeepers, no legal sweepers that comb through copy to identify red herrings. This is the first main issue.

The average Joe Soap on the street wouldn’t have the indepth knowlege of the defamation act, they wouldn’t know the ins and outs, the privelleges associated with reporting certain things. Mr Soap could go home, turn on his computer and write a completely fabricated satirical blog about a well known politician, that said politician had squandered thousands of euros of tax payers money on fancy cars and luxurious holidays.

Does Mr Soap have any sources? No. Does Mr Soap have the backing of a profitable newspaper? No. Should Mr Soap be brought before a court on a defamation charge? Yes.

A defamatory statement is ‘a statement that tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society’. Mr Soap had injured the reputation of the politician to anyone who had read his blog. That is defamation.

TJ McIntyre, a UCD lecturer, wrote an article in the Sunday Times about the issue of the defamation act in online journalism. He said:

‘Amateur publishers can be surprised to find their comments (however casual or off-the-cuff) being held to the same rules as the printed or spoken words of the traditional media. But, of course, bloggers don’t have the legal and financial back-up that other types of media enjoy.’

In other words, bloggers and online contributors should be careful. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean that it is a totally free platform for freedom of words. He also wrote about how Ireland is behind the times when it comes to online defamation:

‘Since 1996, the United States has given internet providers a defence in respect of material written by users. So have many EU countries, which went further than European law requires. Ireland, however, exposes internet intermediaries to a much greater business risk of being held liable for material they did not produce.’

In order to protect internet users from defaming someone, there would need to be more awareness of the issue. Ordinary people would never think of the problem of defamation when sitting down to do a blog, and that’s where the problem lies.

Sources:

Defamation Act 2009:

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2009/en/act/pub/0031/sec0002.html#sec2

Sunday Times article:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article7043718.ece

Image:

http://julianhopkins.net/uploads/jh_pic_081021_BloggerCartoon04.JPG

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