Can Publishing Be a Form of Fact-Checking?

And now for some Inside Baseball.

Last week, I managed to irritate legal blogger Jack of Kent (a.k.a. David Allen Green) by suggesting he was being stingy with his links, and then not telling him about it.  This was not entirely true on either count – He was not being as unlinky as I had thought; and I had tried to let him know.

Since David and I have worked together on the Libel Reform Campaign, I assume that he is not going to sue me for trashing his reputation in the Guardian.  However, elements of our exchange got me thinking about issues of ‘responsibility’ in blogging.

Here’s the thing:  When David asked me “why didn’t you check?” I felt strangely short-changed, despitre the fact that I certainly had not checked with him beforehand.  This is because when I typed the original post, I fully expected David to become aware of it. Incoming links and twitter recommendations usually alert people to the fact they are being discussed.  Moreover, I think some part of my subconsicious decided that to cite him was, in effect, an invitation to respond.  The invitation was not explicit, but to me it feels like an integral part of the blogging conversation.

I write this not to try and get myself off the hook for the pint I know I must pay to David, but instead to ask how responsible blogging might be different from responsible journalism. A key pillar of the existing Reynolds Defence (a public interest defence for libellous statements) is the idea of verification before publishing.  But should this hold for bloggers?  What of the idea (which I had internalised until David complained) that the early publishing of comment or allegations on a blog or twitter, is in itself part of the verification and fact-checking process?  For citizen bloggers, publishing a claim online carries the implicit (and often explicit) request – “please help me verify”.

Mainstream media critics of blogging, and the politicians, certainly disagree, and see the publication of anything unchecked as being irresponsible.  I would appreciate thoughts on this from The Man Himself – Could this form of early publication online be considered ‘responsible’, due to the very nature of the medium?

One Reply to “Can Publishing Be a Form of Fact-Checking?”

  1. No, it can’t. Granted, corrections and apologies tend to be given due prominence in blogging (unlike newspapers), which mitigates against the harm that errors can cause a person, but even so. It’s disingenuous to suppose that statements of fact by a ‘respected blogger’ are read as anything else. Comment, however (and opinion) is (and should be) notoriously free.

    On the other hand, JoK/DAG is hoist by his own petard somewhat, since he lavishly (and falsely) accuses you of ‘choosing’ not to alert him to your blog-post, apparently without checking his facts with you first – an eventuality he seems very happy to critique you for. My take is that his response was disproportionate, inflammatory and hypocritical. I’d suggest you pay him his pint, by pouring it over his head!

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