here come the suits!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The dynamics of blogging are a vertiginous mix of opinion, rumor, innuendo, gossip, slander, invective, and the occasional fact. And that’s what makes it fun. Let’s face it, traditional journalism, as those of us old enough to have participated in its heyday may recall, paid homage to accuracy and objectivity. Not saying it was always there, but the concept that journalism carried with it certain responsibilities for fairness and accuracy was generally present. That is not true for blogging.

I don’t care what your subject is, none of the old reliable landmarks or unspoken rules of the game seem to exist. The free-for-all aspect of blogging opens the door to everyone to participate, which brings with it an exhilarating sense of freedom. It’s also a little bit of the inmates running the asylum. Who’s the referee? Especially when it comes to overseeing anonymous comments.

Most bloggers, myself included, have reluctantly gone to a system whereby comments must be approved before they are posted. It only takes a handful of a-holes disrupting a civil conversation to put an end to the freedom to post immediately. And sadly, the anonymity of internet posting encourages them to flame on.

W. Blake Gray, whose blog The Gray Market Report is one of the most stimulating online reads, finds himself in a bit of a firestorm over the responses – mostly bitter, vindictive, and anonymous – to a lively post about a dinner and tasting with Charles Smith last July. Now, writes Gray in today’s headline, “Attention readers: Charles Smith may be suing you.”

The gist of it is that Smith’s lawyers, via Google, are demanding the Internet protocol addresses of people who made comments on the original post. Whatever your personal opinion of Charles Smith and his wines, any read-thru of these comments can’t help but reveal a snakepit's worth of venom. As Mr. Gray himself took pains to point out, posting such garbage anonymously is cowardly and unacceptable. Apparently, Charles Smith believes it is also actionable.

There are laws in this country protecting journalists, and some of them may apply to bloggers. But there are also laws preventing flat out libel and slander, and why shouldn’t they be applied to blogs and their comments also? Is the blogging frontier so wild and unscrupled that anything goes?

Personally, I would like to see an end to anonymous comments. If you have something to say, then cowboy up and take credit for it. That’s what bloggers do, and so should their readers.

12 comments:

Catie said...

I agree with you about anonymity. It's boring and chicken sh!t. Personally, I discount anonymous opinions. Besides, it's much more fun to be an a-hole and disrupt a civil conversation by using my name.

PS: I love Charles Smith! No matter what anybody says about him, he belongs to Walla Walla and I like him being here.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, although I always post by name when I comment somewhere, my personal take on commenting is as follows:

1. If you are saying something positive or neutral, feel free to say it anonymously, unless of course you have some vested interest in what it is you are commenting about in which case people should be made aware of this.

2. If you are saying something negative, own up to it and put your name behind it. Doing otherwise is just a cop out.

Palate Press said...

Paul, screening comments before publishing them can create its own set of problems, depending upon how you make the decision to publish them. That, and how First Amendment protections are extended to bloggers, is discussed in our story today. I won't link, because that's just too obviously self-promotion, but you might find it interesting.

PaulG said...

By all means, let's link - this is a very helpful piece!
http://palatepress.com/2010/09/wine-bloggers-and-the-law/

cellarmistress said...

Charles is great and he was a big help to me when I entered and won a spot on WBCorBust. Very nice guy. It's too bad that somebody's sour-grape attitude had to come out anonymously on that blog post. If that person had real beef with Charles, the professional thing to do would have been to deal with it privately. As a blog author (now dealing with Google myself over stolen content) I tend to be very suspicious of anonymous posts on anyone's blog and I read a lot of them! I agree with you. It shouldn't even be an option.

Margot Savell said...

I completely agree with you, Paul. I was one of those traditional journalists "who paid homage to accuracy and objectivity." I am now one of those bloggers who is exhilerated by the freedom to write my opinion and/or news ... and who reluctantly requires approval for comments (albeit because of spam more than anything). I'm caught in the middle, understanding journalists who follow the unspoken rules of the game, while also appreciating the openness and engagement offered by blogs. But blogs (and all social media)should have a tenet of transparency. Anonymity should not be an option.

Andy Eponymous Plymale said...

Can a dinner party at the Lazy K really drink 2 bottles per person? (That's in the original Gray post.)

PaulG said...

Well put, Margot – "a tenet of transparency." I like it! Andy E.P. - you can certainly open two bottles per person; after that, it's a race to the dump bucket!

Anonymous said...

As a wine industry member, I often feel that if I post on your blog, I am trying to drum up sales...... That is why I often post as Anon.
I am also a wine lover that enjoys wine blogs. Some posts stir the wine collecter/lover/enthusiast in me, and not for financial Gains...

PaulG said...

Dear Anon, I welcome - encourage - rejoice in posts from wine industry folks. By no means should you worry about a perception that you are trying to drum up sales. You are simply establishing your credentials. That's what I do, and I welcome others who have the expertise to do the same.

Jenny said...

Here Here! It is showing the greatest cowardice to post profanity or to cut someone down without having to take responsibility for it.

Clive said...

In addition to anonymous posting being a solid form of cowardice, I do believe the blogger has some responsibility for the content they generate. This may not be the letter of the law, but if you create a forum for discussion you ought at least see to it that there is some form of responsibility for the commentary. If there is not, you are under no obligation to leave anonymous gossip in place. I was a bit surprised that this blogger decided not to remove the anonymous posts.

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