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Be wary of the blog

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 06:00 am

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St. Albert is once again entering an online controversy via social media, this time a blog that claims to be written by a city employee crusading for improvements and change to the municipal government.

Third Floor News, referring to the third floor of St. Albert Place where Mayor Nolan Crouse and city manager Patrick Draper have their offices, claims to be a news website written by one or more city employees.

As two lawyers pointed out to the St. Albert Gazette this week, the site seems to be rather short on news and long on opinions, and some of those opinions could get the writer in hot water according to Reynolds Mirth lawyer Fred Kozak. After looking at the blog Thursday, he told the Gazette the material would be considered libelous in a newspaper.

Of course, in true St. Albert fashion, the blog writer’s identity has never been revealed. In the past, other anonymous authors have claimed they need such a blanket to avoid reprisals. Apparently, it’s acceptable to libel people without accepting responsibility.

This is not the first time, and probably not the last, that St. Albert has seen controversial material via social media – political blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and personal websites passing themselves off as news sources.

For instance, a couple of months ago a story was circulating on Facebook that a 15-year-old boy had murdered another teen in the community. The St. Albert Gazette revealed that the story was a hoax, which is what the newspaper of record should be doing.

If readers are relying on sources like blogs, Twitter and Facebook for factual information, they’re on a slippery slope.

There is a clear difference between factual news and opinions. Some writers have difficulty telling the difference. Some blogs are very well written with factual information, others present opinions or libel and call them “news” or facts. Readers should be wary how much validity they give these blogs.

The fact that the writer of Third Floor News is unwilling to reveal any identity is, as lawyer Dan Carroll noted, a major red flag.

Carroll, a media expert lawyer who works for Field Law in Edmonton, and who commented about Third Floor News to the Gazette this week, put it best when he said, “Without commenting on this particular situation, it is clear that we should observe certain standards of civility and exercise some restrain before accusing and flaming one another. Otherwise, what looks like free speech is in fact unfree speech, because those with something to say will not speak if they feel exposed to personal attack and those with nothing to say can then revel in saying it as dramatically as they can. Neither serves the public interest.”


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