The blogging backlash is under way. Pay attention, but don't get the wrong message.
Recent articles in prominent publications, including a Forbes cover story called "Attack of the Blogs," have held the practice up to harsh scrutiny. A few politicians are complaining. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), whose career was wounded in part because of bloggers' accurate anger at his public remarks, is reported to say he pays no attention to blogs in the first place.
If you haven't read the Forbes article, do so. Do not come away imagining that blogs and other citizen-generated media are things to fear overall, even though you'll sometimes be justly furious at what people say about you or your clients.
But please do yourself a big favor and ignore suggestions that you fight back against critical bloggers with dubious tactics.
There's a short nod to fairness in the piece. The writer admits, "Attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere." He makes solid points about flaws in the genre, but goes too far in his own antiblog crusade, which has howler inaccuracies and, overall, is a prime example of what he detests.
The most disturbing part of Forbes' package comes in the sidebar, "Fighting Back." There is some sound advice (such as, "Spot blog smears early, before they can spread, and stamp them out by publishing the truth"), to be sure. Then there's this suggestion: "Find some copyrighted text that a blogger has lifted from your website and threaten to sue his internet service provider [ISP] under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That may prompt the ISP to shut him down." Really? Well, as I noted on my own blog in response to the story, I just "lifted" some copyrighted text. This was an exercise called "fair use" - quoting from other people's copyrighted work to create a new one - a practice in which Forbes routinely engages to do its ordinarily fine journalism.
The sidebar also suggests threatening a lawsuit against the ISP, even though it wouldn't be winnable under current law, which rightly makes defamation the responsibility of the person doing the defaming, not the company providing the medium. Normally, Forbes rails against meritless legal threats.
I don't minimize the unfairness bloggers can show. Nor do I approve of the unfortunate tendency of some people to believe what they read, even when it's written by someone sniping from the bushes under the cover of anonymity.
And I do not condone outright defamation. Some day soon, an irresponsible blogger will lose his house after a justifiable libel suit. I'll lead the cheers because that will send the right kind of message.
Instead of fear and loathing, try engagement. Edelman, working with the Technorati blog-search company, just put out an intriguing blogger study. Bottom line: Show bloggers some respect, and they'll reciprocate.
Dan Gillmor is author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. His weblog is at bayosphere.com/blog/dangillmor.