Links, libel and law

This has been a week of mixed emotions. I have been very touched by everyone’s comments both on- and off- line about the post on the justicefortom site, and was equally as elated when I found out that I had – finally – been linked to from David Miliband’s blog.

Now, I have to confess that I bullied and nagged to get a link – simply because I harbour a completely unrequited respect for the man (the man not the politics, necessarily).

Within minutes the elation of finally having achieved nirvana was replaced by panic about what his linking to me might mean; not for myself, for him – well for both of us actually – with the death throws of civilserfgate still reverberating around Whitehall. By linking to me, he was seeming to bring my own views and opinions into his own blogosphere and could, perhaps, be seen to be endorsing whatever I say. In light of my post on justicefortom this might not be a good thing for a Foreign Secretary to be doing. Hmm…

I could detail the following 24 hours but it is neither interesting nor relevant – however, I ended up asking someone to remove me from the links on Miliband’s blog, as I was on the point of throwing up if they didn’t!

Of course, they obliged and I felt relieved yet confused.

At lunch the next day I discussed this with a respected colleague and he asked whether by linking to someone are you endorsing all of their views? In the same way as quoting something libellous that someone else has said, in a court of law makes you guilty of libel. Does the same law stand for linking?

By linking to me, was Miliband saying that he endorsed my fight for Tom?

By my linking to anyone, or recommending anyone on this site, does that mean that I endorse every belief they have?

No… but what if it did?

13 responses

  1. Difficult one.

    An example, from my perspective: There are several blogs out there commenting on Russian politics – most of them profoundly negative. I read them, but don’t link to them, for precisely the reason you’re talking about. Despite the disclaimer on my ‘about’ page, there’s still an implicit association, link (or blogroll entry) implies some sort of endorsement or recommendation.

    Rather than yet another disclaimer, perhaps the answer is to link everywhere equally. Some of the political bloggers are good at this, sharing the link love with others of all persuasions.

  2. I think this is another question that should be clarified in any guidance that is released for civil serfants. There are similarities here between the Government’s decision to remove advertising from facebook:

    For the record, my links appear under the heading: peope I read… I don’t endorse what they are saying any more than I would the graffiti I read on the way home – although their posts are normally far more interesting!

  3. I agree with James Barbour:

    Links out, comments in, trackbacks etc etc all work to build up a picture (or, ‘persona’) of the blog and MUST therefore say something about the blogger themself.

    I’ve actively put this into practice on my blog. I read loads of blogs that don’t make it onto my ‘blogroll’. That isn’t because the content is contraversial, it’s just because it doesn’t ‘fit’ with the persona of my website.

  4. I don’t believe there is necessarily an endorsement of someone’s writing just by linking to them, though the permanence of the links in a blogroll perhaps add some kind of tacit agreement with what’s being said. Is a blogroll the blog equivalent of a Facebook friends list? Maybe not, but it might be down to perception. If the Daily Mail decides it is, then it could be a case of red faces all round, unnecessarily.

    There is a need to employ common sense with these things, as with the debate about anonymity post Civil Serf. Blogging is no different to any other kind of discourse and it is sadly best to play it safe. I think it was the right decision not to be present on an FCO blog with the JfT stuff. It *should* be ok, but the fact that there is a slight chance that it isn’t means that it isn’t worth the risk.

    Linking to someone is like introducing them in real life. In a post, you can say ‘look at this guy, what a jerk’ and everyone knows where you stand. In a blogroll though, there is no context and that’s a problem, I think.

  5. *emma quickly scrolls up and checks blogroll for dodgy people*

    No seriously, what you are all effectively saying is that those links on a blogroll should be constantly monitored unless they something potentially dodgy – or that would damage my brand. That makes it almost more trouble than it is worth… or do I risk/trust that everyone I promote there will behave themselves

  6. Well, Miliband didn’t link to the Tom entry, and he never stated that he explicitly supported the campaign – he simply linked to your blog. All we can take from his link is:

    1) He possibly reads your blog, just as he reads the Spectator or FT every now and then, or
    2) He possibly likes something about your blog. Might be the design, or it might have something to do with your writing style.

    I think the link should have remained up on his site – it would have set a great precedent, too!

  7. Jag, yes, in an ideal world – I could say so many things here about my hopes and dreams (but I would reveal how truly sad I am!). We will see, perhaps one day I will be able to get my link back… in the mean time, the friends of mine who are linked to from his blog, continue to link to me, so I am there but one step removed. Ah well…

  8. Are we mixing up ‘links’ on “Old Web” webstes with ‘blogroll’ namechecks on “New Web” blogs ?
    In the old days a link was more of an endorsement … these people are good, this is a good product etc etc.
    In the new media world a blogroll link says to me ‘this is a person that I have a conversation with, I share a similarity’ I don’t think its as firm as saying that I endorse every person in the blogroll’s every single word, post and thought. By implication doesn’t this mean we are also being linked to the conversations they are also having, the comments of other bloggers left on their posts etc.
    The new web is all about conversations, meeting people, collaborating, solving problems by saying I don’t know all the answers – i’ve got an ‘XX’ and you have a ‘ZZ’ can we solve this or that together.
    All I would have drawn from your link Emma is that you and David Milliband have a common thought … nothing more … but then I may think differently to the popular media.

  9. Some of McCain’s are a tad random …. but I guess that illustrates the point of a blogroll. “Check these out … some you may find hit the same spot with you as with me”.
    Agreed : don’t give up the fight.

  10. Thank you both/all! I have already given up the fight for the Mililink… it is gone. I won’t give up the JFT fight! It is an interesting point about links vs blogroll, Paul… I guess until there is a great media fuss over this one day, we will never know. I just am too chicken to be the guinea pig – er… yes, you know what I mean!

  11. Pingback: Free our Bills « Simon McManus

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