Writing a blog – freedom of speech, controversy, and social media

This is the last week of teaching my college online course on writing and marketing a blog. Here are some more of my notes from the class.

Freedom of speech vs. what’s inappropriate (and possibly punishable)

We all know that in America we have freedom of speech. But we also have a few protections from some people’s outrageous speech. People are not allowed to say things that aren’t true, especially if it hurts someone’s “standing in the community.” If someone says something that defames (injures a reputation) of another person – then that is considered slander and it is punishable in a civil court.

Slander involves the oral “publication” of a defamatory remark that is heard by another, which injures the subject’s reputation or character. Slander can occur through the use of a hand gesture or verbal communication that is not recorded. Libel, on the other hand, is the written “publication” of a defamatory remark that has the tendency to injure another’s reputation or character. Libel also includes a publication on radio, audio or video. Even though this would be considered oral, or verbal, communication to someone it is actually considered to be libel because it is published in a transfixed form.

Libel is what you have to be very careful about in your blogs. You are always allowed to have an opinion. “She acted like she was suicidal” but you are not allowed to state a fact that is untrue “she is suicidal.” Most of you will probably not have to worry about it, but you need to know that nothing disappears on the internet. Ever. If you say something about your boss or your work, it will eventually be found and it will live on forever to haunt you.

The simple solution is to not post that kind of information in the first place.

My general rule is to write “happy” things. It’s simplistic but it works. I don’t bring up hot topics (religion, guns, abortion) in any of my posts and I am very careful to make sure that if I am stating an opinion, I preface it with something like “in my opinion. “ or “I believe …”

Controversial Topics

So what do you do if you’ve said something controversial that has hit a raw nerve and people are responding in a negative fashion?

Easy, you ignore them. Remember that even bad publicity is good publicity. I have had occasional negative remarks on my blog and I just let them roll off my back like water off a duck. (But remember that my blog topics – “children and chickens” – don’t tend to draw out the negative people – what are they going to say? Chickens are dumb??) Don’t try to fight a negative remark some people (trolls) just put them up there for sport and trying to fight them is the proverbial throwing of gasoline onto a fire.

If you think there is a clear misunderstanding, go ahead and attempt to explain your point, but if the comments just return with more negativity – drop the discussion. Try to remember that a negative remark on a post is *not* a negative remark about *you.* (I know, sometimes that’s easier said than done, it can really hurt when people say nasty things about you.)

If someone is vulgar or leaves a particularly nasty comment, feel free to delete it. This is your blog after all, just as you would pick up some garbage thrown in your front yard by a stranger; feel free to clean your blog of garbage that may be left by others.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

For the most part, these are the quick differences between these social media platforms:

  • Facebook posts share a graphic and tell a short story or they tell why you should follow a link to read another story.
  • Twitter tweets immediately grab attention and divert you to somewhere – think of those exciting headlines we talked about. They are also used to make comments on someone’s posts. But remember that space is limited so you really only get to “talk” in bites.
  • Google+ posts are shorter than Facebook but longer than Twitter, these posts include graphics and the audience tends to be a little more high-tech. Google+ tried, but it never really gained traction (but you should still use it to get your blog posts out to another audience.)

As an exercise, take a blog post you’ve already written and then create a post for Facebook, Twitter and then Google+


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

29 thoughts on “Writing a blog – freedom of speech, controversy, and social media

  1. I am British and all of this post is relevant to me. I haven’t tried posting on Google+ yet as I am very new to blogging, but will give a try. I have a friend who would be very interested in your chickens, as she has poultry, many of which are rescued battery hens.

  2. Whatever your opinion, provide enough context. When something is your personal opinion, mention it and the reader decides.

    I switch between WordPress and Twitter on a regular basis. My solution is simple. Adapt everything you write to the best suitable format for the chosen medium or platform. On WordPress I can write between 100 to 1000 plus words. On Twitter I write haikus.

  3. Important info that you need to arm yourself with when blogging. You should really know these points already before blogging. It is similar to journalism. What you write you are putting in the public domain. Good post though.

    • As a journalist I know these points but many people are starting blogs who *don’t* know about this. As an example, I have some students in my class for whom this is news. Somewhere there should be a blogging 101 book on very important writing points to consider for the blogging non-journalist.

      • Not agitating people is a noble goal. Let’s face it, you only have so much energy to spend each day, do you really want to spend it fighting with someone about something you wrote?

        Not me.

      • There are so many positive areas we can spend our energy rather than explaining ourselves to people who probably won’t understand our goals, reasons and motivations in doing certain things like writing. So, best to avoid any unnecessary confrontation that will not bring any personal gain to no one. That’s me on a good day 🙂

      • There are so many positive areas we can spend our energy on than explaining to people who probably won’t understand our reasons, motivations and goals for doing certain things like writing. So, best to avoid any unnecessary confrontation that will bring no personal gain to no one. That’s me on a good day 🙂 Thanks for replying.

  4. Great post. I agree that we should all be honest and Be Nice to each other. I too tend not to post my religious/political beliefs because I’d rather have conversations on such topics, face to face. So much of our communication involves tone, facial expressions etc that cannot be seen on Social Media.

  5. Reblogged this on Anything I can Write About and commented:
    The reason why I re-blogged this is it actually applies to me. There are things in this world (especially politically even though I don’t really follow all that stuff) that I have opinions on and not necessarily good ones (although not necessarily bad either). Truth be told compared to some, my posts (currently and previously) are so minor, they could be toddlers (see what I did there, brilliant :P)

    Those of us who blog and post things on the internet about our lives and thoughts can potentially hurt others and in the long run, could hurt us both as people and in our craft. Read it.

  6. Thank you for writing this post. I was in the future going to do one quite similar but I think this has been done eloquently enough without excessive babble. Especially the point how a negative comment of a post isn’t a direct negative comment on the blogger as a person.

  7. This post has spoken to my heart . When it comes to controversy, for along time I have had to stay away from it, but now I think I am developing that courage to state my point. Especially when in comes to social Injustice for the poor and less Fortunate in Africa.

  8. love the post. As a new blogger I find myself wanting to say much but keep it safe for the most part. I use it to express my feelings and dive into the worlds and characters I create.
    Negative or positive feedback is awesome. Different opinions are what make life so interesting, but I don’t want to start a war over words. Happy posting.

  9. I really liked this. This part caught my attention – “If someone is vulgar or leaves a particularly nasty comment, feel free to delete it. This is your blog after all, just as you would pick up some garbage thrown in your front yard by a stranger; feel free to clean your blog of garbage that may be left by others.”
    I too avoid writing about certain highly controversial topics, as a policy. If there are no copy-write issues or any objections by the author, I wish to weblog this. Thank you for writing this.

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