The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) understands the problems that arose along with the electronic highway and is dedicated to helping those who write for the web know when’s the law is on their side. Bloggers especially are prone to criticism and threats since they are not professionals, only citizens exercising their right to free speech.
But even free speech, they advise, is not be used without responsibility. They’re not lawyers they warn, but their site will give you a ‘roadmap’ as to how to manage your blogs. Their Legal Guide for Bloggers explain “You have the right to blog anonymously; to keep sources confidential; to make fair use of intellectual property; to allow reader’s comments without fear; to protect your server from Government seizure; to freely blog about elections; about your workplace and to access as media”.
All of the above is good news of course but the best way to save yourself from trouble later on is to be sure of the facts before you print them. While tattling and invading the privacy of a famous person may assure you of lots of readers, a lawsuit will not hold up in court if the gossip you spew out all over the web is a lie. And again, it won’t feel so good if you and your yellow journalism tactics are the next big splash all over the Internet and the newspapers. Nor will life in prison equal that of a comfortable apartment well equipped with the latest electronic equipment.
Blogging anonymously means you can call yourself someone other than who you are, but should you arouse public suspicion by spilling too many dirty secrets that you cannot prove, you’ll be found out. There’s no place to hide on the Internet. That’s what makes it such a haven for truth seekers.
Keeping sources confidential
You certainly don’t have to tell where you get your information but you should be willing to once you’re hauled into court. But truthfully, not having to reveal your sources and wanting to reveal your sources are different. If you can’t back up what you say, you really shouldn’t have written them in the first place. Opinion of course varies but if it’s malicious and has no worthy purpose, why spew it out? A professional journalist may get away with keeping their sources to themselves but they have the backing of their profession and their employer behind then, and you as a lone blogger don’t.
Fair use of intellectual property
Of course you can quote from others if you don’t exceed the sentence or two allowed and if you give them credit; the authors thrive on this kind of fair use, but to grab their words and present them as your own is plagiarism and it’s an offense that can get you thrown in jail. It’s best to read several sources and write your blog and when credit is due, give it.
To allow reader’s comments without fear
Criticism of what you write is good but what about some jerk that adds garbage about your heart felt opinions that serve no purpose other than to tear you down. Do you have to allow that? Of course you don’t. You also have the right to allow only those opinions that you approve. Remember it’s your blog and you have the right to control it. Others can take it or leave it, but they don’t have the right to maliciously deface your work.
Protection of your server from Government seizure
Dealing with governments is difficult, but EFF is writing about US governments and the Internet is a global concern, so it’s best not to start acting like a diplomat if you’ve not been hired to be one. The best advice here in the US is to follow your conscience and expect government officials to do the same.
Freely blogging about elections
If politics is in your blood feel free to make your opinions known. Only in a free democratic country is this allowed. But be careful about character assassination in order to get the other candidate a few votes. Freedom with responsibility is what blogging about democratic principles is all about. Both the political party leaders in the US know this. But is it your fault, as a blogger, if all concerned fail to accept this responsibility?
Blogging about your workplace
Of course, talk about the workplace all you want, but be prepared to look for another job if your boss doesn’t agree with you taking it on yourself to inform the world that he is cheating on his wife; that you and most of the others help yourself to supplies; and your blog’s about other things about the company that’s none of your business. They pay you a salary so do your best work and leave the rest to whomever it concerns. Common sense rules in blogging as well as in life in general.
Blog away but use caution, honesty and forthrightness in your assessments. The old adage, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you holds true in blogging, as well as in other activities. Writing for the Internet, far from being a shelter from the storms of life, is like standing on a roof top with a fog horn and shouting out that you’re standing there in your underwear and everyone should come by and take a peek.