Opinion versus Defamation in Adoption Blogging

“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.” – E.B. White

A week or so ago I received an odd email that was something between spam and legit.  At first I ignored it but later felt compelled to open and read it. Perhaps it was the legit sounding from address or the subject of the message.  When I opened I read a message from an alleged privacy attorney in the Boston area. The message author seemed to have read my blog for there were reference to it, by name and topic, in the body of the message. The author launched into an abbreviated lesson on online privacy and then oddly derailed into informing me they worked for a digital marketing firm that wanted to place advertisements on my blog.  It was disjointed and off topic. At that point it read spambot to me yet since they had mailed me a few times, I did respond back and say “not interested, thank you”.

My response prompted two more emails from the individual explaining their digital advertising, fees, etc to which I responded a second and third time “not interested, thank you.”

Yesterday, a blog reader emailed me and asked about the possibility of filing suit against adoption bloggers for possible libel. The question reminded me of the earlier odd email from the person peddling digital adverts. It got me thinking, again, about adoption blogging, privacy, libel and our intentions when we blog.

Has anyone been charged with libel? Threatened with a lawsuit? Is the average adoption blogger even aware of online defamation law and how they may or may not be affected by it?  Are you aware of the rights of that other blogger that you criticize when you are doing so and are you confident they are just ignoring you versus pondering bringing suit against you? I offer that I am conscious of this topic when I write but will admit to a definite lack of full legal knowledge. I don’t have the luxury of a fact checker or legal reviewer.

Some may be easy to shake this off and say “Gosh, Suz, that is ridiculous. Who would do that? It is just online conversation and opinion. Just because Mary Sue got thrown under the adoption blog bus for putting up pictures of her adoptling and was then excoriated for it, does not prompt a law suit. It is not that big of a deal. It is just conversation…just opinion.”

Is it? It may be that to some but if you unknowingly impact someone’s professional reputation or even their personal life because of what your “opinion” does it become something more?

Every now and then I get a private email from a conscientious person who feels the need to tell me that they are discussing me and my views, or a post, on some other blog or adoption forum.  The message is most often crafted in such a way to suggest that the discussion of me is not complimentary and I should click right over to this online minefield and defend myself, or worse, engage in some sort of emotional warfare with the authors.

I never do.  It is my practice to thank the person reporting the personal carnage to me for their concern and share with them my belief that we all have opinions and views – and rights to them – and I do not expect everyone to agree with mine. As much as adoption professional and prospective adopters want to believe all mothers and babies are the same, we are not.  When adoptees project their mother on to me, I am not bothered. I am not her.  I surrendered a child to adoption, yes. I did not surrender YOU.  As such, any suggestion that I am just like the evil barfmother in NE tends to be ignored by me. It does not warrant a gathering of my cyber besties to go pummel the criticizer.  Their words and actions say more about them than they do about me. This has been my personal view to date and it based on the fact that those that disagree with me, project onto me, aren’t doing me any personal harm nor are they individuals, opinions, I value so I disregard. They haven’t damaged my income, my relationships, and my ability to obtain a job. As my children say “H8rs gonna H8”.

But what if they had, say, damaged my job, reputation, livelihood, or less tangible, but equally important, my ability to connect with my child?  What if I had been clearly harmed by the opinion of a stranger in adoptions strange blog land?

A quick Google search brings me to the Electronic Frontier Foundation Legal Guide for Bloggers.  I cannot speak to its accuracy, I did after all find it from a Google search, but it is interesting to read and keep in mind – both for writers and those being written about by others.  This page, The Bloggers’ FAQ on Online Defamation Law, “provides an overview of defamation (libel) law, including a discussion of the constitutional and statutory privileges that may protect you.” There are also numerous links to other sites that may provide helpful information.

It seems worth the read. If you have read it before, maybe a re-read. Refreshers are always good.

Off to read more myself.

14 Thoughts.

  1. Once again Suz, you’ve taken the time to address an important topic in the online internet blogging world. My heart aches for those who have been the victims (myself included) of the cyber bullying that has taken place in the blogging world. I believe that some of the blogging has actually been harmful to the adoption reform movement and several wonderful people I know have been repeatedly attacked for their valid views on adoption trauma. What is particularly troublesome are those who use their blog to attack other bloggers and commenters. Equally troubling are the feeders – the ones who offer support and continued encouragement of the character assassination of others.
    Just recently, Rep. Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove) sponsored and passed House Bill 3281 which became a state law on January 1, 2012. HB 3281 is a measure that would allow any school board in Illinois to expel a student for gross disobedience of misconduct perpetuated by electronic means. According to Mathias, Social networking sites have led to an increase number of incidents where students are bullied, negatively impacting their efforts and focus on education. This measure changes the Illinois School Code to give authority to local boards to take action against students who engage in this behavior.
    On the positive side, my experience has led me to become more involved with the issue and I have a great deal of empathy for those whose lives have been and continue to be affected.

  2. Thanks for posting this Suz. People always need to think before they press the Send or Post button.

  3. Suz, I have been astonished at the vitriol spewed out online, especially where natural mothers speaking their truths are concerned. I have seen this occur on many occasions, character assassination via adoption bloggers. Hypocrisy seems to be the name of the game in these instances. I just don’t get it. I really don’t…

    I admire yours (and so many others) courage for speaking out publicly about the damage adoption has caused to all of us and our children. It is most unfortunate that in doing so, much nastiness has ensued from some in the online community.

    I have learned my lesson and trust very few as far as my personal thoughts and views are concerned. It can turned around on you so fast it can make your head spin. The cattiness never ends, even in adoption blog land.

  4. I find it to be an interesting topic. I fully support free speech (First Amendment) and am against internet censorship but I am also aware that words have power, power to ruin lives and careers and separate mother and child even further. Individuals, like myself, should be aware how their words can be used positively – or negatively.

    I want to believe we can make our desired changes without the character assassination that goes on – attack the issue, the topic, the behavior, the socially constructed notion of adoption and how to build families, not the person. I struggle to understand how the mudslinging that sometimes happens is helpful to adoption reform BUT perhaps individuals engaging in that behavior aren’t interested in adoption change.

  5. Good one Suz, than you.Sadly adoptees speaking their truths are also targeted by both adopters and mothers as well as other non-adoptees.It seems that some are unable to view adoption as a many facetted condition.It has many stories, non less valid than any other.The problems arise when those stories are devalued and we are told they are wrong, not acceptable etc.
    Linking if I may Suz, thanks.

    • Agreed Von. I would add it it rampant in all areas – anyone negative effected by adoption (mothers, fathers, adult adoptees) are all subject to having their truth squashed by others who find it too uncomfortable to listen too. Where I feel we need to be careful is telling our truth and passing judgement on someone else’s. I am not aware of any legal issues arising from that sort of blogging (yet) but lack of of knowledge does not mean it has not yet happened. I welcome others sharing if they are aware of such actions.

      • Quite so Suz.I can see it happening for those who blog about adoptees from an early age and who make predictions for their futures.If the truth is too hard to hear at least let us try to be respectful, not try to silence the other or invalidate them and their experience.

    • Shannon – Not sure it is so much taking the high road as it is that I have allocated a finite amount of time in my life to deal with adoption related issues. I find that time is better spent in helping mothers, speaking to policy makers, writing letters, etc. than it is fighting with the strangers.

  6. One thing you may want to look into is personal injury liability coverage that can be added to your homeowners or renters policy for very little money (under 50.00 a year). If you are not being paid for what you write it should cover you for libel and slander including the defense of an accusation. I do know of a group of adoptive parents who were sued for speaking out about a corrupt facilitator and it cost the four of the a parents upwards of 100000 to defend themselves. They won but they did not recover the legal costs.

    • Great comment Melissa. Thank you. I did note that the link I shared had similar information in it. I encourage all to read it along with Melissa’s comment above.

  7. Perhaps you heard of this case. There was a blog started by a man going through a messy divorce. His blog started out as his personal story, but then turned into a support forum for others going through divorce. His ex-wife got wind of it, took him to court, and the blog was ordered shut down.

    I can’t remember the name of the blog, nor if anything else happened afterwards.

  8. Never crossed my mind. Definately going to read it. Fascinating. Also very much appreicate Melissa’s insight. Something that I learned in DBT is that feelings are not wrong. We may or may not agree but it’s not anyone’s place to judge our feelings. People that spout of opinions as facts, that’s a different story.

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