Monday, October 22, 2007

Offside: Anonymous Sports Bloggers and Libel

When I started this blog I decided to write in the open using my real name (if you follow the links in the "about" section you can find my full name.) I did so for a number of reasons.

First and most importantly, I feel it acts as a self-regulating mechanism against going overboard and spinning personal attacks and vitriol. We all have some nasty sentiments that flash in our minds on occasion. What better way to air them out and avoid the usual societal censuring than to blog under the cloak of anonymity.

The inherently passionate and competitive aspect of professional sports and the fans that devote their time and energy to the various games and dramas make it even more tempting to bash teams and players you dislike.

No doubt it can be a liberating feeling to unload on others under the guise of dissecting recent games and the on-ice character of certain players. If you write decently, can spin an original insult and are persistent, you will attract a core of readers in due time. But the fans of that kind of writing may give a false sense of how popular a blog or website is. They will cheer on the nastiness with passion in hopes that it continues, stoking the ego of the spewer of acidic verbiage.

But the logical end point of a blog guided by that kind of underlying sentiment is...nowhere. There's nothing further to explore when you deal in black and white. You may impress yourself and and a small following of readers, but you will turn off far more in the process.

A ruling from a judge in the U.K. addresses the hurling of abuse online. The case involved fans of the English team Sheffield Wednesday and attacks posted by fans against the executive board of the team. The owner of the website has been ordered to reveal the names of the offenders:

"Disgruntled fans of Sheffield Wednesday who vented their dissatisfaction with the football club's bigwigs in anonymous internet postings may face expensive libel claims after the chairman, chief executive and five directors won a high-court ruling last week forcing the owner of a website to reveal their identity.

The case, featuring the website, is the second within days to highlight the danger of assuming that the apparent cloak of anonymity gives users of internet forums and chatrooms carte blanche to say whatever they like."

And later in the article:

"Dominic Bray, of K&L Gates, Sheffield Wednesday's solicitors, said: "There seem to be quite a lot of websites that are using their anonymity to make comments about people and think that there shouldn't be any liability for it. But the internet is no different to any other place of publication, and if somebody is making defamatory comments about people then they should be held responsible for it. What these cases do is just confirm that's the law - the law applies to the internet as much as it does to anything else."

Read the full story here.

I think there is a growing realization amongst long-term web surfers about how little online privacy there really is.

Offhand I can't think of any hockey bloggers that seem to cross the line. Besides, I think most people who spend their spare time writing articles and discussing hockey online are pretty fair and want to be recognized as being as objective as possible.

Definitely something to keep in mind...

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