Bloggers face a troubled future. Never before in societies around the world has so much public opinion been made public. Up until a decade or so ago, political authorities were able to keep the lid on dissent. True, there were some major issues, such as the UK Poll Tax riots, but largely any argument with the political elite had to be channelled through organisations – and that meant they could be monitored.
Thanks to blogging, opinions from individuals can reach millions and in turn they can spread those thoughts far and wide before governments are even aware. No longer can politicians so easily manipulate public opinion. Nowadays – and increasingly – they are on the back foot. The Internet, blogging in particular, has fuelled a significant amount of public thinking which politicians cannot easily control.
So, when political systems have a problem like this, then they start fighting back. Bloggers are in prison in some countries, simply for writing their thoughts on the web. Even in the USA a blogger faces jail and in the hallowed halls of the United Nations recently attempts were made to silence a popular blogger.
Of course, you could argue that in each of these cases the blogger has done more than simply write their thoughts – the courts have agreed, for instance, that the bloggers involved caused offence or harassment. But the fact that the courts around the world are getting involved in cases against bloggers or those who Tweet is an indication that the world of “free speech” is only really “free” if it doesn’t upset the political apple cart.
Here in the UK, the botched legislation in the wake of the Levison Enquiry looks like it has such grey areas that it will catch many bloggers – in spite of attempts at reassurance from civil servants. Indeed, the Leveson Enquiry only looked at print – even though all of the newspapers called to give evidence have vast audiences online, the Enquiry was asked only to look at print. The online world only got a single mention in the four volumes of the report.
Yet, the legislation now agreed by the politicians at Westminster appears it is going to cover online writers in many instances, even though the Enquiry which led to the new laws did not even investigate that arena. Cynics might say that the politicians have seen an opportunity where they could introduce legislation that also encapsulated the world of blogging so they could limit the impact of web-based free speech.
Ultimately, though, it all means one thing. If you blog, you must do so within the laws for your country. That means if you want to stay out of trouble you need to learn publishing law if you want your blog to stay untouched online. I recommend the excellent text book McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists to keep you on your toes and prevent you from ending up in court.