Dead tree columnist prejudices public’s perception of bloggers?

pixelated Irish News mastheadAllison Morris made a number of contributions to this morning’s Irish News. As well as the front page article about the alleged security breach when a police officer’s personal mobile fell into the hands of dissident republicans (and its contents were subsequently passed to the Irish News), she also writes a curious opinion piece on page 19.

Trapped behind a paywall, it only seems fair that her column gets a wider reading.

Rambling online twits prejudice trials at will

Kicking off with premiership footballer Joey Barton who “risked making legal history as the first person to be charged with contempt of court in relation to a comment posted on Twitter” Allison Morris moves on to mention the “Guardian newspaper journalist who tweeted the name of a juror during the Harry Redknapp tax-evasion trial”.

A modern thirst for instant information means we can no longer wait more than five seconds for news updates, even if it means a dilution in quality – the vast majority of tweets being irrelevant snippets of useless information.

small sample of Allison Morris' tweetsFor the record, Allison tweets and like many of us contributes “irrelevant snippets of useless information”.

The column’s laugh out loud moment comes when she tackles Eamonn Mallie.

The indefatigable journalists Eamonn Mallie holds the unchallenged title of king of Twitter in Northern Ireland. Last week he tweeted 140 characters that included the words ‘discombobulating’ and ‘deleterious’. Just reading it pushed other useful information from my head. I can no longer remember my Pin number as a result.

However at this point the pendulum swings without warning from Twitter users to bloggers.

Bloggers or ‘citizen journalists’ as some like to be known are a mixed bunch, their writing ranging in quality from humorous and informative to crazy and dangerous. There are, unfortunately, people who believe that a high-speed wireless connection coupled with too much time on their hands makes their rambling thoughts and conspiracy theories somehow relevant.

People with no legal or libel training regularly pass off misinformation as fact, prejudicing trials and defaming others at will, while the rest of us set out to write and publish correctly, subject to the laws of the land.

I’ve had one blogger, a person I’d never heard of in my life, email me a list of questions in relation to some half-baked tin-foil hat conspiracy theory they’d cooked up, giving me a ‘deadline’ to respond or else they would publish.

[Ed – Anyone’s ears burning? Can think of a couple of candidates!]

Meanwhile back in the real world I hit the delete button and carried on working for a living.

I don’t see the local evidence to support Allison’s claim that bloggers “regularly pass off misinformation as fact, prejudicing trials and defaming others at will”. My experience is that libel and defamation most often occur in the comments under blogs – an ever-present risk on Slugger – but rarely in the actual posts written by the bloggers.

It takes time to write a blog post. The act of having to form and edit a series of sentences allows your brain to mull over the content. Just because people don’t have formal legal or libel training doesn’t preclude them from understanding the concepts and applying them to what they write. Shuffling words around a screen – much like Allison Morris’ daily occupation – means that there is an interval in which to have second thoughts and to ponder the wisdom of putting your name to what you’ve written.

Still, all this doesn’t prevent badly written and ill thought out blog posts from being published online. But then, formal legal and libel training doesn’t always help the newspaper editorial chain from spotting libellous content. At least a blog post can be corrected as soon as a mistake is spotted. It takes longer for newspapers to put right their wrongs.

Allison’s column then reverts back to social networking, asking how a juror could be prevented from “checking out an accused’s Facebook profile” or how a witness could be prevented from “tweeting details of a crime … in direct breach of due process”.

She finishes:

As the use of platforms such as Twitter becomes the norm, can the flow of information be monitored to prevent the derailing of legal cases or in this information-driven society is it already too late to prevent the twits from taking over?

Some interesting issues raised about the contemporaneous and throw-away nature of modern communications as well as some less justified jibes at bloggers. Though as a humorous/informative/crazy/dangerous* blogger, I’m not sure I’m qualified to respond. (* delete as applicable)

And just in case Allison ever Googles herself, I should also mention her fear:

I’m sure that somewhere out there in cyberspace a blog accusing me of eating small babies for breakfast exists but I just can’t be bothered wading through pages of verbal excrement in order to find it.

It does now!

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.