Friday, November 11, 2011

A Cautionary Blogging Tale

A few years ago, a good friend of mine was fighting tooth and nail to keep custody of her son in what would become the ugliest child custody case - a perfect example of what power and money can do - I've ever born witness to.

She lost the initial fight and the battle continues on 3 YEARS later in appeals court filings as she misses the best years of his childhood1.

During the first few months of initial filings and court proceedings, my friend started a personal blog to keep her family members and close friends apprised of any news of the case as well as a central place for us to go to donate money for her mounting legal costs.

As I'm sure you can imagine, occasionally her anger, frustration, and sadness was evident in her writing. It was never particularly venomous toward her ex-husband but she was not particularly kind or generous when describing some of his (IMO) despicable actions. He and his lawyers found the blog.

I was called to testify on my friend's behalf for a number of reasons but mainly as a character witness.

During my testimony, under cross-examination, my friend's blog was raised as a major point of contention. Here is the exchange as I wrote about it at the time:

Attorney: Ms. T. You work in JOURNALISM! Surely you must agree Ms. N's disparaging remarks made against Mr. H in her blog were inappropriate and irresponsible particularly without giving Mr. H an opportunity to present his side of the story?

Me: (laughing) No, Sir. I do not agree. Blogs are, by their very nature, personal, subjective, biased accounts of experiences and emotions. They would not be subject to the same high ethical standards in news reporting because they are not news. And if Mr. H is so concerned with presenting me with his side of the story, please, by all means, have him share the link to his own blog and I, as an avid blog reader, will be happy to oblige him.

Apparently, the magistrate didn't agree. Apparently, the magistrate didn't agree with pretty much anything my friend or any of her witnesses did or said.

It was because of this very event I wrote my own blog disclaimer which reads:

This is MY blog. These are my thoughts and these are my works - content owned by me. This blog is not intended to be a representative of any news or journalism source. It is, with my full knowledge and intent, to present only my piece of reality as I see it, when I see it. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time about any thought I have. I reserve the right to moderate all comments. I reserve the right to delete any comment I don't like. I reserve the right to ramble about my side with no consideration to the other side. If someone wants to present his side, he can get his own blog. If he wants to share the link to said blog, I'll be happy to read it at my leisure.

Huh. I still don't have any edits to that more than 2 years later. Interesting. Moving on!

I present this to you tonight because of a comment I received from Lucy's Reality at BlogHer on my post, The Intimacy and the Cost of Blogging, I wrote several days ago in which she says:

"...Unfortunately, a family member found me too and ripped me because I wrote about the family (mind you, I use no names) and they forced me to take down a lot of my personal blog posts, which broke my heart. Right now, I have been writing more cautiously and it sucks and I know my readers are wondering, I am sure they can feel it, because, you are right, we enjoy a blogger for their style and we know when it changes! I am getting ready to start being me again, I still won't write anything about that family member, they are not worth my time..." [reprinted with permission]

I absolutely LOVE her line, "I am getting ready to start being me again"!

This spoke to my own heart because blogging is a place where I am distinctly ME and if anyone attempted to take that away, well, let's just say there'd be (at the very least verbal) fisticuffs. There is no one in my personal life who gets to control what I say or how I say it. Period. No one.

I took the Hippocratic Oath when I started this blog. I, first and foremost, do no harm. That means whatever I write, no matter who I'm writing about, if it could cause physical or legal harm, I will not say it. This doesn't mean I won't write posts that have the decided *crack* and *smack* of the zen stick that sting like the dickens. I might hurt someone but I won't harm them. There IS a difference.

Additionally, I have distinct boundaries - boundaries I set before I wrote my first blog entry here - about very specific topics I will not address under any circumstances here. These topics are very old scars, deep wounds that I do not want published here. This is not the space nor the time. That's about me wanting to keep my Lovely Readers out of my muck. It's not to protect anybody else.

I'll admit, I've come excruciatingly close to crossing the line a number of times over the years. Because, sometimes, the old hurts, the old rage, the old helplessness rear their heads - especially when I'm tired, vulnerable, hormonal - and I have difficulty controlling my mouth. There have been times I've awakened the next morning and, in a panic, deleted a previous post I felt crossed my line.

Make no mistake. That's not because someone else is controlling me. It's because I don't want to have this be the repository for what was outside my control...then and now.

So, finally, I come to my cautions for you, Lovely Readers and Fellow Bloggers:

1) First, do no others but, most especially, to yourself. If there is even the remotest possibility your published words may find their way into a court of law, used as damning evidence against you or someone you love, do not say it in your outloud voice.

2) Set your topic boundaries NOW. Know yourself, know your triggers, write them down in a private-to-you-but-visible place if you have to but know them. Know when you've crossed them and, if you believe you're close to crossing them, hold off on clicking the "Publish Post" button until you or someone you love can review it after a good night's sleep. Believe me, your Lovely Readers would gladly wait knowing you are protecting yourself.

3) Empower yourself. Don't let anyone from your past or present censor you if you are doing no harm. They no longer get to control you just because they don't like what you might say. Don't allow your "mouth" to be duct taped by someone who thinks they should be able to censor you. No one can censor you without your consent. That is your first amendment right (provided you live in the United States).

4) No matter what, do not forget, while writing is typically done alone (and, if you're like me, in your pajamas), there are readers you do not know about, of this, you can be sure. Unfortunately, sometimes, these readers aren't of the Lovely variety and have malice in their hearts. Be prepared. Be aware. You are, literally, putting yourself out there in more ways than one. There may be consequences.

5) Consider posting your own blog disclaimer (and copyright notice) on your blog in an easily found place. I do not know how it'll stand up in court - I'm not an attorney - but it can't hurt and, at the worst, is a layer of protection for you...just in case.

Jane, in her infinite wisdom

1. She has limited visitation rights and her ex moved out of state with her son shortly after he was awarded custody. Because all travel expenses are to be paid by her and because she has astronomical legal bills, she sees him only a couple of times a month for 2-3 days at a time.


Lucy said...

Oh, I intend on being me again but I will be using quite a few of your guidelines in the process. Blogging is a learning experience and sometimes you have to dust yourself off and learn from your experiences and move forward! Oh, and learn from other bloggers they are a great resource they can even help you avoid some of the painful experiences!!

Just Jane said...

xoxoxoxo, Lucy! Thank you - AGAIN! You INSPIRED me to write this and I'm so very thankful. I expect even more great things from you :).

The Shiftless Wanderer said...

I had absolutely no idea! That a blog could be used against someone in court. And this story of your friend and her custody battle breaks my heart. Ugh. I am going to share this with my class that I am teaching - Introduction to Counseling, an undergrad psych course. But we were talking about ethics last week. While blogging is not counseling, it's important that the students know that if they were to ever be sued as therapists, that their blogs could be subpoenaed. Good for *me* to know as a therapist!! Thank you for this. And, as always, for saying it with such grace and biting humor.

Anonymous said...

An excellent post - you should submit it for publication. I have met more than one person whose contract of employment includes a no blogging clause. By the way I found you on the NaBloPoMo blogroll. See you again soon.