What is the ages old misconstruction of Shakespeare? “First kill all the lawyers.” Well, one might excuse bloggers if they might wish to add the officers of the courts to that death sentence, at least if the experience of the bloggers at New York’s “Room 8” blog are concerned.
For Ben Smith and his fellow “Room 8” bloggers, the world got a bit topsy-turvey not long ago when he was served with a grand jury subpoena by state prosecutors demanding that the identities of anonymous posters on his website be revealed.
Worse, the court wouldn’t inform Mr. Smith exactly why they wanted the identities of several posters and what they would do with the information once they got it.
Smith’s subpoena got retracted and the identities weren’t needed after some legal wrangling, but incidents like this are beginning to occur more and more. Bloggers are running up against the law with increasing frequency in the US and the world. Of course, for much of the world’s bloggers, their blogging is landing them in jail to be tortured by oppressive regimes like China and the like, but bloggers are also finding their work under question in the free world, too.
It’s still the wild west as far as the law is concerned with blogging. Blogs haven’t been around long enough for the law to have settled on what to do with them, what rights bloggers have or don’t have, and what they can or cannot do. The status blogs have in the eyes of the law is still incredibly amorphous. Are bloggers journalists? Should they get the same protections as newspapers? Are they entirely private communications? Should they be held to exactly the same libel laws as other media? And, where do anonymous bloggers stand? Should they be forced to reveal their identities? How about commenters on blogs? Should they be forced to publicly declare their identities? Is their privacy somehow perfectly secure?
These are questions that the law is just beginning to grapple with.
But where should we bloggers stand on this issue? Should we rise up with one voice and stand on untrammeled free speech?
I maintain that we cannot claim that blogs are somehow above the same rules that applies to the media generally. Of course blogs should be considered free speech, especially where it concerns political blogs. However, there is no reason at all to think that blogs should be held above the law where it concerns libel. After all, blogs have just as much capacity to destroy someone’s life if used maliciously as any TV show or newspaper.
But, one thing is sure. Bloggers are absolutely covered untouchable under the Constitution in one area: politics. A blogger should be able to say anything on politics without fearing the iron boot heal of the law coming down upon them for their political opinion.
After all, freedom of speech to the Founders meant free political speech. The Founders did not mean that people could say just anything they wanted to say in general, but the Founders did wish to safeguard all political speech. Every state in the Union at the inception of the Constitution had limits on free speech and the Founders didn’t necessarily mean to upend all of them. But, they did want to be sure that political speech was untrammeled (save for libel which takes that speech in a different direction).
So, we bloggers should not expect to have license to say just anything we feel like saying. But when it concerns our ideas on politics we should be able to feel utterly free of government interference.
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