Category Archives: freedom of speech

Do blogging and political campaigns mix? Edwards and Marcotte issue

I’ve stated frequently in presentations that the blogging world is changing how public information is dealt with. There is an ethos around blogging that is in direct conflict with how communication has been traditionally managed by corporations–and politicians. That conflict is being highlighted right now in the John Edwards campaign.

The Edwards campaign had a blogger, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote some relatively outrageous things–not outrageous in the blog world which thrives on the colorful opinion, but outrageous if viewed as an authorized expression of the candidate’s perspective and style. And that is, of course, the rub. Does a paid blogger represent the candidate in all that is said and the style with which it is said?

Those wishing to make an issue of this put pressure on Edwards to fire Marcotte. He distanced himself from the content, but declined to fire her because of freedom of expression. So, here is the other rub: to fire a blogger because of content is to violate the freedom and personality ethos of the blogosphere. The blog world would go nuts. And yet clearly from his comments, Edwards was aware of the potential damage that Marcotte could do to him. Yet, if she toned down her approach, everyone would be watching to see if he put the clamps on. A no win situation.

In this article, the situation is resolved. Marcotte continued to post in ways that were offensive to some (reassuring to others I am sure that Edwards was following through on his pledge of freedom). But Marcotte resigned, (or “resigned”) when the pressure on Edwards continued unabated.

The dilemmas are clear–not just for this season’s crop of political candidates, but also for companies and organizations needing to deal with the blog world. It is an issue in my own company–what fits the blog ethos and what doesn’t? What is OK in the wild west world of bloggers who despite their cries of freedom have an increasingly narrow view of what is socially acceptable to them and what is not. The herd mentality seems to have taken over to some degree and pity the poor soul who violates the increasingly clear ethos.

Do Republicans lead in techelectioneering?

Here’s an interesting article on how the campaigns compare in preparation for what some are calling Googlelection.

And another “Just an Online Minute” post on the bungling of candidates in the blog world.

Bloggers beware–here comes the judge

A court in Florida awarded $11.3 million in damages to a woman whose business was damaged by online attacks. Here’s the story from USA Today.  This particular story is interesting because the defendant never showed up and didn’t have an attorney because she lost her home in Katrina. And the battle was over the service she received in helping retreive her sons from a boarding school in Costa Rica where her divorced husband had sent them. Apparently she didn’t like the service she received and posted some bitter complaints on a blog or forum site.

Having been involved in helping companies deal with vicious and untruthful online attacks, this will be seen by many as an important precedent for those concerned about protecting reputations. From that standpoint, I welcome it. The $11.3 million judgment is of course, silly. How they came to this amount from the damage this small business may have experienced escapes me. And of course it is a rather empty victory given the defendant never showed up and clearly does not have the ability to pay.

Another concern is the impact on the freedom of speech that is a value dearly held by the blog world. To know that you can sustain this kind of damage when blasting out your thoughts in the heat of the moment is going to give some people pause. It probably should to some degree. But if our legal system has the same impact on Internet communication as it has in our health care system, our product liability situation, and in most other areas of our lives, we will all be the losers for it. So I hope some balance emerges.