It has all the fixings of a fabulously sensational story: Beaverton Grace Bible Church Sues Oregon Family For Defamation After Bad Reviews. For $500,000 nonetheless. Local news started spinning the machine talking about the ramifications this decision may have upon bloggers.
Essentially a former member of Beaverton Grace Bible Church started blogging about her experience at the church using such words as indoctrination and cults, as well as supplying accusations about the pastor willingly knowing that a sex offender had access to the nursery and children without doing anything about it.
Now, I’m just paraphrasing the Huffington Post article linked above, but this got me thinking: What ramifications would a decision in favor of the church have upon bloggers? When does a “review” turn into willingly defaming a person or organization’s reputation?
According to wisegeek.com, criticism is the foundation of our freedom of speech. However, doing so without evidence or on the basis of false information, is where the line is crossed:
While the right to fairly criticize people or entities and publicly share information is one of the hallmarks of personal freedom, it is illegal in most places to malign the reputation of another through false information. Verbal comments as well as printed materials that can be supported with verifiable evidence cannot be considered defamation, even when that information does damage the reputation of another party. This is because the information is in fact the truth, and not fabrications created by someone who wishes to undermine the reputation of another through any means necessary. In other words, in some jurisdictions, the truth is a valid defense to defamation, including libel and slander.
The ramifications upon bloggers would be minimal as long as there is verifiable evidence. But if a blogger is willing to engage in half-truths, lies, and conjecture in order to get people to read a blog post, then there is a problem.
There is no need to be sensational, bloggers should be held under the same scrutiny as journalists because the law regarding libel applies to any published medium.*
That being said, bloggers should not be afraid to expose the truth (as long as it is verifiable).
*I am not a lawyer, this merely my interpretation of complicated laws that you can read by Googling, “Libel laws.”