On Blogging Ethics

Popehat got comment spam. Ken wrote an entertaining post blasting the lawyer whom the comment spam was touting. The lawyer responded to the post in comments, explaining how he wasn’t really responsible for the comment spam, and Ken updated the post to remove identifiable references to the lawyer.

I have mixed feelings about that.

I’m full of loving kindness and hopes of redemption for those of God’s children who have fallen short of perfection. It’s an aspect of the job for which I’m naturally suited.

So I have some sympathy for the lawyer who hires an “expert” to design and promote his website, and unwittingly winds up the victim of unethical marketing practices like astroturfing, comment spam, and blog scraping.


But as Miami bar discipline lawyer Brian Tannebaum will tell you: When you’re a lawyer everything is your fault.
Judgmental? It may be. Lawyers are in the judgment business—not judging people, but exercising judgment by making the right decisions based on limited information. People’s futures, their freedom, and sometimes their lives depend on our judgment. Our bad judgment calls will land our clients into prison just as quickly as our malice would.

Recently a California lawyer, not understanding how the internet works (apparently the Internets don’t reach Fresno), allowed one of her clients to design a website for her. That was the limit of her understanding: that he was going to design a website for her.

She did have one additional set of facts at hand: Before she represented him, her web designer had been convicted of obstructing justice, sent to prison for 10 years, broken in rank, and dishonorably discharged from the Army.

I wouldn’t think you would have to know anything about the internet to know that that those facts screamed for close supervision. As I’ve said before (and will keep repeating): Outsource your marketing, outsource your ethics.

The web designer not getting close supervision, the predictable happened: he went overboard. In her name. I raked her across the coals here. We talked on the phone, and I became convinced that she hadn’t had a clue what the web designer was doing on her behalf. I tempered the language in my posts about her a bit, but I didn’t remove her name.

Would it have made a difference if she had left a comment instead, explaining what had happened? May have.

Should a naive lawyer using poor judgment in choosing her marketing assistance get one freebie? Maybe.

But maybe not: when you traded your cow to a vagrant for a sack of magic beans, don’t expect to just get your cow back when the beanstalk doesn’t grow.

0 responses to “On Blogging Ethics”

  1. Maybe I was just in a good mood. I figure the guy probably shit himself and had a very bad night. I’m confident he won’t do it again. And he was polite, when most people kicked that hard would have gotten nastily defensive. It’s not that he deserved it. I decided to extend some grace, like I need grace now and then.

    And don’t pretend you aren’t a big softie too. You didn’t link your prior posts or repeat the lawyer’s name.

  2. I believe in redemption; or at least deferred adjudication. I’ll take something down if asked nicely.

    However, I keep a storage of the taken-down post. I then set up a Google Alert for the subject’s name. So long as the subject remains “clean,” the post will never be republished.

    • I had it in my mind that editing a blog post was a bad thing. I’ve decided, based on comments here and Ken’s actions, that it’s not. I’ve removed the references to the Fresno criminal defense lawyer.

  3. Generally, I think that editing blog posts is a thing, not a bad thing. annotated, to correct an error? Good thing. Pulling a Juan Cole and removing traces of bogus claims? Bad thing. Removing the particular criminal lawyer’s name from your blog posts? A thing — other than that it’s your call, I dunno.

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