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Hal Licino

Think Before You Type: Avoiding Blog & Social Media Gaffe Libel

Feb 16 2012, 06:46 PM by

Ashton Kutcher’s knee-jerk Twitter defense of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno before he was aware of the child abuse scandal, or Chris Brown defending his post-Rihanna-beating public image by stating that he “aint retracting ****… not biting my tongue about **** else” are just the latest in a long highly publicized string of gaffes, blunders and faux pas to mark the online world as the all-too-public crucible for the impetuous and impulsive.

It’s easy to fire off a tweet, post, email newsletter or blog entry without thinking the consequences through, and it’s always a case of being penny wise and pound foolish: A couple of seconds extra thought and reflection could save you months or even years of tattered reputation and repeated apologies.
Famous Stumbles, Flubs & Solecisms
Washington Redskins wide receiver Jabar Gaffney recently took to Twitter to encourage a Cowboys fan to “kill urself”; Canadian Member of Parliament Pat Martin called his government a “******* disgrace”; and staid Billericay secondary school’s assistant headteacher Charlotte Berry in the United Kingdom ran through the entire dictionary of profanity in describing herself as lazy, alcoholic and promiscuous.

The “What the **** were you thinking?” moments have to extend to the choice of the band on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show playing the Fishbone tune “Lyin’ A** B****” when GOP Representative and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann took the stage. The “severe reprimand” that the NBC executives laid on the band will certainly be foremost in consideration when it comes time to renew their contract.

When Dean McDermott posted a Twitpic of his wife Tori Spelling’s nude breasts behind the face of their four year old son Liam; when Miley Cyrus called herself a stoner and pothead; or when the judge sentencing Dr. Conrad Murray for killing Michael Jackson quotes his “tell-all” TV documentary as a primary reason for the conviction, you really have to wonder what thought processes were engaged when the decision to take those actions were contemplated… or not contemplated, as the case may be.
Think Before You Tweet, Post, Email or Blog
Whether you’re blogging on issues as controversial as politics or as relatively compliant as arts & crafts, stepping away from the keyboard before tapping out some vehement attack will always pay dividends. It doesn’t matter if you’re criticizing Obamacare or the players on a local sports team.

When the head of the University of Texas at Austin College Republicans tweeted that assassinating President Obama was “tempting,” the barrage of reactions was as predictable and forceful as when Dallas radio sportscaster Mike Bacsik went on a tirade as the Mavericks lost an NBA playoff game.
There Are Still Some Taboo Subjects
Although we live in an open society there are still taboo subjects that should be approached in a strictly factual, verifiable and justifiable manner - if they are approached at all. Recent misguided rants supporting Nazism have torpedoed the careers of noted fashion designer John Galliano and movie director Lars Von Trier.

Another director, Brett Ratner, lost out on hosting this year’s Academy Awards show due to homophobic comments similar to those that have been applied by comedian Tracy Morgan; rapper T.I.; and NBA star-slash-Kim-Kardashian-temp-hubby Kris Humphries in order to shoot themselves and their careers in the feet.

If you absolutely must violate these modern prohibitions in your blog, do it in a strictly sober, balanced, scientific manner with ample references to legitimate sources. When you’re trying to defend your blog’s thesis, a peer-reviewed journal article will carry orders of magnitude greater weight than a link to Wikipedia or some nebulous and notably biased website.

The recent half a million dollar settlement in the Courtney Love Twitter lawsuit and the anonymity-shedding "Skanks of NYC" case prove that the internet is no longer the Wild West Frontier it was in its early days. As a blogger you cannot assume you can escape the long arm of libel laws. While it is true that controversy draws attention to your blog and the email newsletter and social media presences that support it, you’ll need a lot more than some AdSense revenue to pay your settlements!

Posted in Tips & Resources, Social Media, Online Branding, Tech Editorial

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