Or, as I almost called this post, “Blogs and the Organizations That Love-Hate Them.”
Today I follow up on the Scottie Pippen lawsuit. In the suit, we discover that Pippen thinks he can draw decisive conclusions from tags in a blog post. He suggests that readers may draw an “=” sign between a tag and a blog subject.
Do you think he’s right? For my sake—and that of millions of others—I hope not. More important, I hope a federal district court doesn’t buy that argument.
I wrote last week about Pippen’s lawsuit against a raft of media outlets. He alleges that their discussion of his financial picture hurt that very picture. In fact, he says at least one of those outlets claimed he had filed bankruptcy, which he says he never did.
But his naming a blog at ASU Law School as a defendant hits closest to home for me, for a number of reasons.
The blog, as I noted before, did not call Pippen bankrupt. It simply pointed out that he, like some other pro athletes, has experienced financial trouble.
Pippen’s boggle about the blog is more specific. His lawsuit notes that the blog post includes the name “Scottie Pippen” and the word “bankrupt.”
Not surprising, you might think, for parts of the blog mentioned athletes who had declared bankruptcy.
That gives me pause—and it should do the same for any journalist who works online, or who ever has her stuff posted online. In other words, practically everyone in the field.
The reason should be clear: Post tags refer to a wide variety of the content in a post. The only certain connection between the tags is that they appeared in the same post.
Let me give an example. I wrote a brief post on December 6 that praised the work of nine lawyers who volunteered to answer consumer questions about bankruptcy. To no one’s surprise, “bankruptcy” was one of the tags. But was I suggesting that those lawyers were financially insecure because of the tag? Of course not.
This happens all the time. Again here in Arizona, a prominent county attorney recently announced the recommendations of a task force examining child protective services and child abuse. Newspaper and TV news stories online used his name and child abuse as tags. Ungainly? Perhaps? Actionable? Not so much.
Of course, Pippen’s suit may chill speech at least a bit. For example, have you glanced up at the top of this post to see what tags I chose? Go ahead; I’ll wait.
Back? So you see that I decided to tag Scottie Pippen; but my more careful side omitted “bankruptcy.”
Over-careful? Maybe. But I’ll be watching how the court treats Pippen’s claim about some tags in a law school blog. Concurring with Pippen’s view would undermine the way journalism is done online; this question will remain open as long as there are online tags.
Even more important, agreeing with Pippen’s interpretation would deconstruct a foundational way that people read and use online information, trusting the interactivity of links without believing that those links are causational or essentially related. And that would be revolutionary.
In the meantime, until the court rules, organizations (like ASU, I presume) will continue to have mixed feelings about blogs. They enjoy the immediacy and reader connection they engender. But their speedy publication nature—and lawsuits like these—give their lawyers agida—physical and mental.
As a blog advocate (“blogvocate”?), I am eager to see the case’s outcome. And until then, I’ll watch my tags.Follow @azatty