The decision of a New Jersey court to order a blogger to reveal her sources is another stark reminder that the worlds of user-generated content and social media are just as subject to defamation procedures as professionally produced content.
Life coach Shellee Hale made comments on various online forums about a software company called Too Much Media, which subsequently sued her for defamation. The court ruled Hale was not a “professional journalist” and was therefore not subject to the right to protect her sources.
I won't get into the rights and wrongs of this particular case. It's not particularly relevant to the overall point, which is that bloggers and those engaging in social media activities are just as liable to be sued as a newspaper or a TV station.
This has implications for the millions of amateur bloggers and social networkers that have sprung up in recent years on any conceivable subject from turnip-growing to top-level business consulting. But it is also extremely relevant to brands and corporations looking to utilize social media as part of their communications activities.
We are undergoing a revolution in media and communications, and social media and the internet, with its attendant interaction, are fueling that revolution. The days of a media organization breaking a story in its print edition after a day of rumination, fact checking, and multiple sourcing are well and truly gone.
Bloggers are breaking and commenting on stories within seconds of events happening, and so-called traditional media has had to react and up its game to compete at a similar pace. Features and comment are catching up with, and even overtaking, news in terms of pace and speed of publishing.
However, professional media organizations are steeped in the traditions of media law and many journalists still cut their teeth in the courtrooms of local towns and cities. They employ teams of lawyers that check copy before it is published (although admittedly those standards are being tested by the race to get content online before everyone else).
The truth is many bloggers aren't worth suing, because they don't have any significant assets. And, indeed, there are cases of bloggers passing on really big news stories to professional media organizations, because they have the security of teams of media lawyers and legal insurance policies to minimize their exposure.
But, when corporations get involved, all of a sudden there is someone to sue who has significant assets. It underlines why brands need wise counsel from their in-house guardians and agency communications partners more than ever in the burgeoning multimedia environment in which we operate nowadays.