Careful what you say online

I recently read a blog post in which the blogger trashed a former employer, venting a personal perspective of the organization’s internal politics. I was surprised that someone would jeopardize himself that much for the sake of putting his opinions and resentment in print. Come to think about it, the comments weren’t in print; they were on the internet, which made them all the more risky. But people say things on the internet that they’d never say if they were public speaking or putting those words in print.

Words can haunt you

I’m always very careful of what I say on the internet because it can literally be circulated globally to millions of readers at the speed of light. I’ve only written – and sent – one e-mail in anger; it came back to haunt me. But that’s not the reason I refrain from making scurrilous comments about individuals – and especially about large corporations. It’s about a very small word that can have very big consequences. A little thing lawyers call “libel”. Public speakers and writers are constantly vigilant about protecting themselves from libel charges but the average person never thinks about it. And many think that when they’re online they’re anonymous and invincible.

Keep it safe

Sometimes I think I’m just being paranoid, but I stick to my policy of playing it safe. When I was a journalist I said whatever I could prove about whoever deserved it. And I didn’t worry about it because I didn’t have to. My employers had lawyers and they could fight it out if they wanted to.

Watch what you say

But if you’re just a blogger you probably can’t afford a lawyer, nor the time and energy a lawsuit can wrench out of you. It’s much easier and safer to watch what you say anywhere online. We tend to think that freedom of speech and the anonymity of the internet will protect us, no matter what we say. Not true. While it’s true that you can say what you like, it’s also true that people can protect themselves with lawsuits – even if what you’re saying is true. And as far as anonymity on the internet is concerned, it’s a myth. You can be tracked down very easily.

The issue is everywhere

When I started this post I intended to refer you to an item published last month in the Los Angeles Times to illustrate my point:,0,5604043.story. I thought it told the story well but I was concerned that people in the Toronto area, where I do most of my business, might think it was far away and somehow less relevant to them. But as I read my Toronto Globe and Mail last night I came across another article that brought the issue right home to Toronto.

Be very careful

The article makes the point that most people who have no experience with publishing are not aware of libel and defamation laws. But when writing is your job, you learn very quickly that people respond to what you say – and it isn’t always positive. And you learn to be very, very careful. If you’re new to publishing – and even a blog post that you think will only be viewed by friends and relatives – or even an Facebook comment – is publishing. Please be careful. What you say could cost you dearly.

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About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

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