Hate Speech and the Blogosphere

Last week, the ABC’s Media Watch did a piece on the offensive comments left by some readers on newspaper websites and one blog: in this case, Tim Blair’s popular weblog. There is no doubt that the comments shown on the program are extremely offensive and are obviously the work of immature idiots. For example, take this comment in relation to Muslim taxi drivers who supposedly didn’t carry guide dogs:

If these people won’t do the job required, then get rid of them. I assume that they would make a reasonably decent, compost.

In an interesting twist, it emerged that the comments used in the ABC piece were apparently provided by members of an Australian Muslim internet forum. Tim then responds, as one would expect, by highlighting some comments posted by members of that particular website, with the implication being that Media Watch were being hypocritical for not including the forum in their critique as well. Today, in the latest installment of this unfolding soap opera, he published an email purportedly addressed to the program executive producer and presenter but sent in error to one of Blair’s readers. The email appears to confirm that the Media Watch researcher was aided by a member of the forum who was, it seems, a former colleague. Additional commentary on the issue (from a variety of perspectives) can be found here, here, here, here and here.

However, more interesting than all this internet drama, are the questions this incident raises about the nature of blogging. Firstly, are blogs now considered to be part of the ‘media’ such that they should be held to the same standards as newspaper and television outlets? Secondly, the reason Blair’s blog seems to have been given this attention is because of his day job as Opinion Editor for the Daily Telegraph. Given his blog predates his job with the Telegraph and given it is not run under the auspices of the newspaper, does it warrant Media Watch coverage? And, thirdly, to what extent should bloggers (and, by extension, forum owners) be held accountable for the comments they allow to be published?