So The Defamation Bill is about to be debated in the Commons.
Ostensibly this gives social networking web site owners a little protection against libel suits that may result from complainants taking objection to something web users may write or publish about the complainant on such web sites. If the web site owners identify the “troll” they themselves won’t get sued.
On the face of it, it is a good idea. It makes the right people accountable for their words and actions. I’m sure the owners of Twitter and Facebook et al will breathe huge sighs of relief if the bill gets approved.
But what does it mean for the rest of us?
Libel is a strange beast. People – particularly minor celebs with major egos – like to sue for it at the merest provocation. Even big celebs have been known to pay off mortgages on second homes with a well won libel suit.
But it’s one thing to sue a multinational newspaper but what about an average-Joe Twitter user? What about suing a blogger? What about suing the likes of you or me?
I guess we all need to be careful about what we say or write from now on. We all need to be clear about what is mere opinion and what is untruth or unsupportable truth.
Because part of the deal with this bill is that the complainant has to show that they have suffered serious harm to their reputations, or are likely to do so before they can take their defamation case forward.
I feel rather ambivalent on this issue, I must admit. Lord knows I have no respect for someone who prints lies and untruths and says that so-and-so shagged so-and-so with a hastily bought legume from Tesco just because they wanted to enjoy the emotional fall-out and social trauma that ensued. But at the same time I reserve the right to say that so-and-so is an utter arse with the brain of a Eurovision songwriter and deserves to be knocked verbally into a cocked hat if that is my personal take on the matter. Lord knows I have given the likes of Russell Brand, Eamonn Holmes and, just recently, Gary Barlow a right Royal drubbing on this here blog and done it with hyperbolic gusto.
But what if these guys feel I have damaged their reputation?
I mean, God knows my opinion is the only one that matters and careers are made or broken on my most nonchalant say-so. I am the all-powerful uber-blogger, after all.
But what if Russell Brand blames me for the break-up of his marriage and the loss of his virility? What then, huh?
Whoa! Whoa! That last bit was just a joke, OK? I’m sure Russ is as permanently randy as an IT student at a Spearmint Rhino half price night but you see how easy it is to fall into this libel trap? I make a non-serious joke about Russell Brand’s completely un-alleged flagging bedroom prowess and suddenly I’m libel fodder. Even though it was plainly a jape and just a device to express my opinion and imagine how worse it could have been if I’d rung him up and left him a telephone message saying that his old man drooped worse than an end-of-season bungee rope? I don’t think a bunch of flowers and an apology would get my arse out of the flames quick enough. My goose would be well and truly cooked. And my bank account plundered and dumped quicker than one of Russell’s ex-girlfriends.
So what’s the answer?
Well, it’s simple.
We have all got to start being nice to each other. And more importantly than that: nice about each other.
I know. Terrible, isn’t it?
What the hell are we all going to write about?