Check your facts before blogging from the hip

Philip Young has posted about my earlier post about an alleged incident on the London Underground. Philip spoke to me before posting and has certainly made me think.

He comes at the issue from the perspective of an experienced ex-journalist who is used to checking facts – something which I failed to do and should have done. It isn’t about what did or didn’t happen, but it is about reminding ourselves of the importance of thinking more about what we blog about.

One of the major benefits of blogs is the speed and ease at which you can publish. It is also one of its greatest dangers.

When I first read Jackie’s post I thought about writing something, but didn’t. Later I read Tom Watson’s post on the same issue. And as I have some degree of trust and respect for Tom (despite his serious lapse of judgement earlier this year) I then posted on the same issue.


5 Replies to “Check your facts before blogging from the hip

  1. Hey Stuart – pin the rap on me why don't you!

    Seriously, I thought long and hard about publishing a post too. In the end it came down to whether I thought that Jackie was telling the truth. I have known her for a number of years and although I disagree with her on many things, she is as honest as the day is long.

    She suffered an assault and wants it sorting. I chose to help her. You did to. It was a judgement call but then again like most things in life, it usually comes down to that.

    Resigning from government was a judgement call too. My motives were the same as yours even though you disagreed with me on the decision.

  2. Seriously, anyone who wants to check whether a complaint was made needs to call the British Transport Police and give the specifics about location, timing, etc that I gave in my post. I can understand someone who does not know me doubting my story, but doubting those who *do* know me (Jim Treacher, a friend of more than three years, for example) is sort of…weird. I think Philip's instincts are sound, but he is ignoring the way that credibility is earned in our online world – that is to say, not as easily as he seems to assume.

  3. NB I have yet to hear from the investigating officer, as promised, but this incident happened on a Friday at about 1PM (I was not seen by a BTP officer for nearly two hours after I reported the incident at Piccadilly Circus – *after* I'd walked away and called my partner, who advised me to go to the police, something which had not occurred to me). I am not sure whether I should have expected to hear anything on a Saturday, but I have not.

  4. The reservations I have about your post, and others like it Stuart, aren't to do with the veracity or otherwise of the allegation.

    I don't know whether it's true but even if I witnessed it and was a 25-year friend of the person involved, I still think we need to be more aware of the consequences of publishing – whether that's on a blog or anywhere else. (isn't the definition of publishing for legal purposes anything that could be read by a third party?)

    Let's remind ourselves that this person hasn't been convicted of an offence, and my recollection of media law is that until that's the case, you don't go printing a picture or article that assumes someone's guilt – it prejudices any subsequent legal actions and if that person was found not guilty, I think they might be within their rights to sue you and anyone else who posted their picture with an assumption of guilt…

    Sure there are people who've done law more recently than me, but I fear you're on dangerous ground.

  5. You can print a picture with an appeal for information no worries but once any arrest or charges are made, then it has to come off to gaurd against contempt.

    You can say someone has been murdered or that someone is being sought in connection with a murder, but that must be changed, once someone has been charged/arrested to something much more safe – the defendant may claim it was natural causes.

    I haven't read the various other blogs about this but my opinion was very much that Jackie's original post was an appeal for information. Yes she makes a connection between the man in the picture and her ordeal but my experience and instinct tells me she would not be troubled if called upon to defend a libel action.

    And sometimes, in my experience anyway, you can make an informed decision – just how likely is this libel action and hey, shall I go ahead anyway?

    In this case, the chances of the libel action are small indeed, I would say and all sorts of factors about the man in the picture's reputation could come into play. Who knows? I for one am willing to take such a risk to say to a woman who reports that she has been attacked while others did nothing, to say, do you know what? Some of us do give a sh*t.

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