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What You Write Could Get You Sued

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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The Wall Street Journal is shown on sale at Hu...Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

From the Wall Street Journal comes an article cheerfully titled Bloggers, Beware: What You Write Can Get You Sued – WSJ.com

Be careful what you post online. You could get sued.

In March 2008, Shellee Hale of Bellevue, Wash., posted in several online forums about a hacker attack on a company that makes software used to track sales for adult-entertainment Web sites. She claimed that the personal information of the sites’ customers was compromised.

About three months later, the software company—which contends that no consumer data were compromised—sued Ms. Hale in state court in New Jersey, accusing her of embarking ‘on a campaign to defame and malign the plaintiffs’ in chat-room posts.

In her legal response, Ms. Hale, 46 years old, claims she is covered by so-called shield laws that protect reporters from suits, because she was acting as a journalist and was investigating the hacker attack while researching a story on adult-oriented spam.

It’s unclear generally if “shield laws” for reporters protect bloggers or not. It’s also unclear to me, based on the WSJ article alone, how they would help Ms. Hale. The point of such laws is to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources, not to provide them with immunity from defamation lawsuits.

In any case, WSJ articles comes across as rather alarmist in my opinion, but it does contain an important reminder: what you write online is generally public, and that you should be aware of the potential implications of what you write. This is as true about avoiding potential defamation or similar suits as it is to think about the permanence of what you write on line in terms of future employes. So think before you write.

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