Can somebody sue a blogger?

I’m a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan in case you didn’t know. And I’ve also been a fan of the PensBlog ā€” a funny daily blog about the Pens ā€” for quite a few years now. They make up a lot of ridiculous stuff and have a huge following and solid amount of influence on the team (well, as much as a blog can). For example, some of their photoshops have been hung up in the Penguins locker room.

They have their own voice, which they’ve developed over the years, but have built up a certain reputation. So much so, that whenever Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his wife announced that they were to split up, the PensBlog started a Twitter hashtag about different Ravenstahl rumors one evening. The rumors weren’t even rumors, though, just ridiculous statements about Pittsburgh’s mayor. But the blog and Twitter tag caught on so much the new Ravenstahl lawyer, here to protect the two’s privacy during their divorce, said that if anybody made a “rumor or innuendo … I will sue them.”

That statement caused many in the Pittsburgh blogosphere to laugh and scoff at the notion of a mayor taking so much exception to a blog that he would find and sue the blogger who started a rumor.

Now, without getting into an argument about teams, there is also (one of many) a Philadelphia Flyers blog, Broad Street Hockey. And yesterday they had a post about another Flyers blog that started a rumor about a couple of the players. Essentially, as Philly.com reports, two players, forwards Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell are upset that a rumor was started suggesting that Carter had an affair with Hartnell’s wife and it was causing controversial and unrest in the Flyers’ locker room.

The rumor was started by a Temple University student on a web site he created for a class and he got the rumor from a “credible source,” although he said it wasn’t a player or anybody in the Flyers PR department. It was just somebody who “works close to the players.” The student said he made the post as a rumor and presented it that way. Still, many sites picked up on it and used it to speculate on the Flyers recent struggles.

Hartnell had this to say on the matter and how fast the rumor spread throughout North America:

“It’s just funny to see how much pull one guy can have. It’s an amazing thing, the Internet, but for all the good things there are obviously some bad things about it, too.”

The outrage from the Flyers organization has caused Peter Luukko, the president of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, to make a statement calling the blog “vicious and irresponsible.” He also said the organization is considering a lawsuit against the rumor.

So there we have it. A Pittsburgh mayor (his lawyer at least) and a Philadelphia professional sports team threatening to sue a blog and blogger. These are just two recent events that have caused anybody in the public eye to rethink the Internet and the blogosphere to stand behind the Internet wall and feel safe.

To me, I think it’s ridiculous to think that a blogger could be sued for making a “rumor.” That is, unless, the suing party has proof of libelous damage. Because I feel that’s the only type of lawsuit that could happen. Still, the burden of proof is always on the prosecutor and as the Internet expands and blogs become more interconnected, I believe that finding proof is going to be even harder.

Can somebody sue a blog? A blogger? A comment on a blog? Who’s responsible for what?

It will probably take something drastic and unfortunate for these questions to be answered.

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Filed under Blogging, Communication, Ethics, Journalism, Media

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