In my last post, I covered some common liabilities in the world web publishing. If we’re not careful, we all are likely to fall into the liability danger zone. So here are my top 5 ways to stay away from making these mistakes:
1) Follow good journalistic practices.
Verify your facts. Be thorough and as accurate as possible in your presentation of others. Use reliable sources. The better your sources, the better your chances at defending your writing in the case some lawsuit comes up as it is evidence that the statements appeared to be true. Carefully attribute your sources. Do not paraphrase statements in such a way that creates implications that are unfounded or that you did not intend. Most importantly, stick with the facts. Truth is a complete defense in defamation and false light cases. If you can prove that what you wrote, posted, or said is true, then you have negated the falsity requirement at the heart of these claims.
2) Get permission.
Where possible, get the written consent from the people or organizations you talk about and reference. Consent is typically one of your strongest defenses to defamation and false light claims.
3) Stay opinionated, not inaccurate.
Free speech is a constitutional right, but it is important to keep in mind that opinions should be presented as such. Make sure the context of your thoughts is using the contextual language like “in my opinion” “I believe” “we think” etc. The Opinion and Fair Comment Privileges protects against lawsuits for people fairly expressing their opinions so long as they are not claiming it as factual.
4) Avoid danger zones statements.
All of these just avoid, always. Any statements that accuse someone of committing a crime or being arrested, using abused substances, acting immorally, engaged in sexual activity, committing malpractice, and acting with professional incompetence. This is simply dangerous territory that should be avoided. If it is important enough story for you the is relevant to the public, keep well documented research and Godspeed.
5) Beware of publishing about businesses.
Free speech is a constitutional right and you absolutely have every right to criticize or question companies as well as products and services provided you do so accurately and fairly. Many defamation lawsuits are brought by businesses who often have lawyers within their arsenal and economic motivations linked to their reputations. Under defamation law as well as laws designed to enforce fair trade and fair competition, if you falsely disparage a business entity or its product or services it could get messy and very costly.
Find these tips helpful? Have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below!
Jason Long is the founder and CEO of Brainleaf and an Information Architect and Managing Partner at CodeWright. A self-professed serial entrepreneur, he is always interested in new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to change the world. He has over 15 years of experience in design and development and has served in a variety of different roles ranging from designer to Information Architect to CEO. He spends most of his time focusing on the build and development of new ventures while trying to travel the world.