We all know the blogosphere can be a brutal place. While we’ve become desensitized to some of the mud slinging and smearing that goes on in blog posts and their comment sections, some people forget that the online realm is still subject to the law.
Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater and lobbyist and PR consultant Carrick Graham had a reminder of that yesterday as three public health experts began defamation proceedings against them in the High Court at Auckland.
University of Auckland professor Boyd Swinburn, University of Otago professor Doug Sellman and tabocco control advocate and Pharmac advisor Shane Bradbrook allege a “campaign of deliberate and sustained defamation”, on the Whaleoil blog over several years.
Just plug “Boyd Swinburn” into the search bar on Whaleoil and you’ll see what has so irked the researcher and his colleagues. To be repeatedly labelled a “trougher” and in the case of Prof Swinburn “2013 trougher of the year” would appear to be pretty insulting.
The Urban Dictionary describes “trougher” as: “a person who uses public coffers for personal, political, or monetary gain”.
But is it defamatory? That and other smears and claims made on the site will no doubt get an airing in court. I haven’t seen the statement of claim, but I can imagine those sort of blog posts will be cited as evidence.
As I wrote at the time, the 2014 publication of Dirty Politics revealed via leaked emails, the extent to which Cameron Slater and a tight group of lobbyists and spin doctors had worked together to attack the work of public health researchers.
Last year, Carrick Graham popped up unrepentant and gleefully continuing his lucrative work.
Graham even had a picture of Prof Swinburn on his office wall – the key target on his hit list.
I can’t recall a similar recent case of scientists taking defamation proceedings against a blogger, or a journalist for that matter.
Everyone should be entitled to free speech, but when exactly does name calling and insinuations cross over into defamatory statements that damage someone’s reputation?
This will be an interesting case to watch.