This is the third post in a continuing series of posts about legal issues that affect food bloggers.
Are you afraid to comment on something for fear of reprisal? Do you feel passionately about something but fail to speak your mind because you are afraid of being attacked for your opinion? If not, then this post is not for you. However, I know from speaking with many of you that you have experienced some form of bullying online.
In my practice I have represented school districts that deal with this issue among school children of all ages. Guess what? It doesn’t stop when you graduate. Based upon the multiple emails I received on my Recipe Attribution post, I know that many food bloggers out there had strong opinions about the subject but did not feel comfortable expressing them. Why? Because they were afraid of being berated. They were afraid to offer an opinion. They felt they might be bullied.
Of course, some may hold back because they don’t want to offend the author of the post but that is the exception not the norm.
I dare you to post a recipe with a boxed cake mix and ask readers to comment on whether they think anyone should use packaged mixes in their recipes. In all likelihood you will see a deluge of people professing how they are appalled that you did not take a few extra minutes to make the recipe from scratch. Now, calling something where you used a packaged mix a “recipe” is something that might be up for debate. Do I think it’s okay to use packaged mixes? Yes, as long as they are not composed of artificial ingredients or flavors. That’s my opinion that I’m sharing with you. See what I did there? I shared my opinion. I did not say things like “How could you feed your family something like that?” or “Don’t you care what you put into your body?” Big difference.
For the most part, the nasty comments one might receive on a post are not illegal. They often do not rise to the level of an illegal activity like cyberstalking or cyberharassing. Nor are they something that would warrant notifying the Internet Crime Complaint Center. However, even though the activity may not be illegal in the eyes of the law, it can still be considered unacceptable by most standards.
Am I asking everyone to be nice? Yes. Am I asking everyone to agree with each other? No. We should have a healthy discourse, one where we respectfully disagree. I can’t tell you how many decisions by the court have made me want to scream “What were you thinking?” While I may feel that way I never say it that way. Whenever I write to the court, in support of or in opposition of something, I always close with “respectfully submitted.” I show respect.
A blog is an extension of of ourselves. It can be real and raw and when someone tries to intimidate someone it can be alienating. Sometimes it feels just like high school. I HATED high school.
I know there are those out there who are simply looking to drive traffic to their sites and will post whatever they think will draw traffic instead of revealing who they are. I want to believe that they are the minority. Most bloggers I know share their struggles both in and out of the kitchen. They put themselves out there to connect. When they are attacked with nasty comments or bullied for sharing their opinion it hurts.
If you are only talking to people who think exactly like you, you are essentially talking to yourself. That is what crazy people do.
Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship.