Friday, 9 July 2010

Blog censorship

I want to tell you a story about a science writer called Sid.

Like a lot of writers, Sid had a blog where he mused about all sorts of things, everyday and deep. Back in December he received an interesting piece of mail. It came in a green envelope, hand written with a second class stamp. Inside it was a cutting from a newspaper with a scribbled post-it note from a 'J' saying (s)he thought Sid would be interested.

Sid was a bit suspicious and noticed that the 'handwritten' envelope was actually printed in a handwriting font. Yes, the whole thing was an advert - very clever, if a little sneaky. They had even made the edge of the 'cutting' frayed. Sid wrote this up on his blog, half admiring, half dubious about the approach. Soon the comments started to flow in, and this became by far the most viewed post on Sid's blog.

Lots of other people received the same mailing. Many thanked Sid for pointing out that it was a mailshot. After a while, a commenter noted that there was an ASA ruling against this advert, which Sid linked to. The mailings would have to stop. But no, the comments kept coming in. Those 'cuttings' were still being sent out. It seemed the ASA had no teeth to back up its stop order.

At this point, Sid got a Fed Ex from America. It was a 'cease and desist' order from a US law firm. Sid had a choice. He could do as requested and take down the blog post, or he could stand up to the bullying. Sid would have loved to be another Simon Singh and to have done what was right. There is no doubt he was in the right - but any further legal process could have been very expensive. Sid didn't have Simon's financial clout. So Sid took down the blog post.

Was it a defeat for Sid? I'm not sure. A lot of commenters had been delighted to find his blog post - he had helped these people. And even if this was a cheap and cheerful lawyer, he had cost the company sending out the adverts something. The trouble is, Sid was only ever amused by the ad - he thought it was clever, if naughty. The people who really have an axe to grind are those who have spent money. To mix a metaphor (as Sid would never do), the baton is with them now.

Any resemblance to people and organizations living or dead in this post (with the exception of the ASA) is purely coincidental. This is fiction.

1 comment:

  1. I can't see any possible legal grounds for a cease and desist order, but then I'm not a lawyer.
    Unless Sid was stating something demonstrably untrue in his blog, it would surely come under the heading of fair comment.
    Even so, unless you care passionately about something, it's much easier to back down than stand up and be counted.
    If the ASA did its job, of course, fictional types like Sid wouldn't have to.