Sunday, May 31, 2009

Being responsible for what we say: Fredom of speech is not always cut and dry

We spend a lot of time here talking about our writing, specifically how to increase exposure and revenue. Today I am going to discuss our responsibility as writers whether we be freelancers, paid to write site users, or bloggers. Words are very powerful things as they have they have the ability to create images, shape opinions, deliver information, and uplift a person. They also have the ability to destroy a person.

Plenty of people are now aware of a certain situation which occurred on a paid to write site many of us are familiar with which surrounds, blogging, promotion, and quite frankly deliberate harm inflicted on another writer. No names nor links to any of this will be provided, but it is a prime example that we as writers in our zeal to up our personal brand and earnings need to be completely aware of who it is we deal with and how we look as a result of that. It is also a reminder about all that business about living in glass houses and throwing rocks and the such.

Suppose a person were to approach you saying they wanted to feature your article(s) on their blog or site to help promote your work. It would be flattering and exciting, no? What happens when that goes bad or they misrepresent their intentions? What happens when you aren't even asked and someone does this anyway?

In the case someone features your work with a byline and you can generate revenue with no negative imagery or words surrounding it, super! That is actually the norm, most people want to be courteous and cut deals where they give you a little something now in the hopes that later you may return the favor. We do that here even.

However in a recent case, a person simply chose a person whom the blogger viewed as living a life against "someones" own moral code. A scathing personal attack was written and then the person seemingly unsatisfied sought to share that attack within the community they both are active writing members within. The unsuspecting person was painted as an immoral seductress with overtones she may even do this regarding children which was patently false. She neither informed the person this would be done, cited the persons work in a manner in which a reader could easily find it (That means no link to it), and further did not allow the person to respond in the blog via comments. She simply deleted them if we are to believe what the person attacked stated.

Right away we all think the same thing hopefully which is in the following order:

1. "That is wrong from a decency standpoint."
2. "A person should be allowed to defend them self where they are attacked."
3. "There is the 1st Amendment thing."

On points one and two the emphatic answer is yes. On point three the answer is not so much as you think. If you post something, even in the name of "citizen journalism" you are still held to certain legal standards. Of course defamation of character is an issue, and bloggers are finding they are losing lawsuits over this left and right these days. Don't think so? Google "Sued bloggers", "Blogger lawsuits", or some variation of that and watch the pages of results scroll by.

If you choose to be, and I will be blunt here so cover any virgin ears, an asshole, and trash people in your blogs, articles, or even forum posts, you are leaving yourself in an actionable position. You have in effect attacked a persons character and perhaps even jeopardized their ability to function reasonably in society regarding any number of issues like housing, their career, their family relations, and issues too numerous to list fully.

You can reasonably criticize a persons work if you are discussing their writing. Hell you can trash their writing ability all you want. It is when you cross over to personal attacks, veiled or not, in which you are now held to a different standard.

An example is in 2002 a post appeared on a blog in which a person was cited by name in which a blogger called a person an incompetent hack and then intimated the person kind words a homosexual. They did this on several blogs and forums. Big deal you say? For the accussed it was. He was not homosexual, but he was an active duty member of the military. He was unaware the posts existed. In late 2003 when re-enlisting a routine security clearance check was conducted by ENTAC and SBI. Both found that post during their investigation, they can do that when they literally get thousands of dollars to conduct each check.

The person cited in the blog was not only denied re-emlistment after almost 16 years of honorable service, but was brought to trial under the UCMJ which is much stricter and has far looser standards of proof regarding this offense; basically they can find guilt based on "It sounds reasonable/probable" with no hard evidence. He was then kicked out under other than honorable conditions and left to fend in the world without his pension, and with that stigma attached to him forever.

During trial, the posts came into his custody as a part of the hearing. It wound up being a person he minimally knew who simply had an axe to grind. He sued in civil court and won. The person had no money or assets to cover the judgment. Vindicated to some degree the person in question tried to clean their military record of this and re-enter the service so he may finally finish his time and retire. He was denied. His life was destroyed by a person that wrote defamatory posts about him just to be spiteful.

So what is the point of all this? Pay attention to what you write. Pay attention to the blogs you link to and help promote. If someone offers to promote you on their site or blog, actually go look at it. Read what they have done in the past. Investigate the person them self, and go with your gut instinct if it seems even a little bit fishy. Make sure that no matter what is posted you have the ability to respond directly and publicly, not through some third party.

Just as the links in our articles are judged by their associations, we as writers and people are judged by ours as well. The difference is a bad link can be easily corrected and pushed out of sight. As people, a bad association is far less understandable, far harder to forget or forgive, and far more damaging both personally and professionally.

Just think in the case of the above soldier and how a simple post on a blog from a person he barely knew ruined his career. As a freelancer we are judged by where we live on the web. We are dealing with web savvy people for the most part. Don't get fooled into thinking that if you freely associate with people who do nasty things to others, that you may not be judged the same even if you don't.

It is not only poor form as a person, but can damage your earning ability and standing in the writing community. Nobody wants to risk working with a person that has a reputation for that type of work or those who identify them self to those people. While it is a shame something happened to prompt the need for this discussion that damaged another writer's reputation, it is something we need to be aware of.


  1. I had to hold off a few days before responding, simnply because I was dangerously close to some sort of retaliation - and a blog war just drags me down to their level.

    I'm actually going to write a post to follow Mandy's - and in the meantime, if you want to know who NOT to trust with permission to write about you, contact me privately.

  2. It is one thing to offer critique but to blatantly trash not only the writer’s content but the writer who created it because of their personal belief is the crime of the century.

    As a believer and an open minded individual of many art forms, my advice has always been if it offends you then don’t look, read or listen. Too many great artists in the past have been criticized for their styles of art form. Josephine Baker, Isadora Duncan and Dali are just a few of many.

    Leave the artist, writer, dancer and musician alone to create and allow life to be diversified.