More and more as things progress with The Lichfield Blog it’s becoming apparent to me that hyperlocal has a real part to play in the changing local media landscape. So it’s time to get serious and look at what we need to do if we’re to make a serious contribution to local media. There are three areas that seem to be the most important to me and I’ll cover these in a series of blog posts. This is the first post in the series and it’s about the legal issues we face.
First off, we’re vunerable. All manner of threats are around and could rear their ugly head at any moment. One of these is legal action and recent news that one law firm has created a team dedicated to online comments makes the issue all the more evident.
In Lichfield we are fortunate that most of the posts are written by journalists who have the necessary training to know what they can and cannot write. But then there are comments… We take the ‘see no evil’ approach – comments are open and we provide a reporting feature for any comments that are inappropriate. Anything we think is potentially libellous is removed, but only if we see it or if it’s reported. Posts we deem likely to generate inappropriate comments are pre-moderated which means muggins ‘ere gets to be flooded with ‘please moderate this’ e-mails.
Sometimes we get caught out. Just the other week we had a case where we had to turn moderation on for a particular post because of some really unpleasant comments. What happens when we get caught out and don’t/can’t react quickly enough?
Unfortunately, we have very draconian libel laws in the UK. The risk is one day we might get some kind of legal action and have to employ the services of a lawyer to help us figure out what to do. When (not if – I’m expecting it to happen one day) that starts to happen our £72.50/mth isn’t going to last long.
What we could really do with is guidance before that happens. Maybe a hyperlocal alliance would be a good way to provide that to all our fellow hyperlocals and bloggers and those considering starting up? It’d help to provide a little bit of security to hyperlocals as we figure out where the future lies.
Such an alliance could provide;
- Tips on how to avoid action (e.g. when to moderate)
- Advice on what is and isn’t acceptable in posts & comments
- How to deal with take-down notices
I’m sure there’s more that could help, but I’ve not experienced it yet (thankfully) so I don’t know! Thoughts welcome…
I checked with lawyer Chris Sherliker (who offers free tidbits of legal advice via Twitter, so follow him) about liability and he warned that the author, owner and ISP could all face legal action if libellous content is posted on a blog. That’s a very scary thought.
And yes, all very good talking about it but what are we going to do? Well, I’m not exactly sure how to go about it. We’ve got to get the legal advice from somewhere and that’ll cost… so how much is it and who funds it? Who’s likely to fund it? Is there someone we could ask to fund it? Could we collectively fund it? Do we allow anyone to access that advice and guidance? What else could we provide? I don’t have the answers but if we club together maybe we can come up with them, so what say you?
Let’s get talking about this. Will Perrin’s hyperlocal alliance group on the Social by Social Ning is a good place to start (I’ve started a legal issues discussion) and let’s get chatting on Twitter too – how about using #HLA? Don’t forget there’s also some good tips from Talk About Local on defamation.
Update: Dan Slee has just published an excellent post on his blog title, “BE LEGAL: Six things a hyperlocal blogger really should know about the law”
Update: The backdrop to this post, as mentioned is the far from acceptable libel laws we have to deal with. Paul Bradshaw has written a great article on how you can help change the daft defamation law on online publishing.
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