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Thursday, June 18, 2009

UK Force Punishes Police Blogger

It's hard for me to say whether this was actually a problem prior to it featuring as one in almost every crime procedural on network TV, but I do know of at least a handful of instances in whcih bloggers use their "anonynmity" to skewer their jobs and co-workers. I won't link to any of them to save their operators any further investigation, as at least one police station has decided to take its "anonymous" whistleblower to task.

After the High Court rejected the notion that the blogger's identity should be protected in the interest of the public, a newspaper released his name. Now, Det Con Richard "Night Jack" Horton's blog has been removed and he awaits censuring.

Horton's blog detailed local criminals (and their exploits) and expressed strong opinions regarding political and social programs, as well as public officials, and a judge ruled that blogging was "essentially a public rather than private" matter. Horton is said to be "keeping his head low."

What this amounts to is a precedent in the UK - a closely-watched precedent. If bloggers' identities cannot be maintained as anonymous, fewer people will speak their minds. Some critics may think this will essentially "clean-up" the Web, which is often criticized as being too harsh and vitriolic; the thinking is that, if bloggers and other users have to "take responsibility" for the things they say online, they will "watch their mouths." Of course they will!

So how is that not censorship?

While the ruling may be reversed, the damage has been done. As fictionalized on TV, Det Con Horton now faces the enmity of his co-workers, professional peers, and other individuals and entities. In some cases, the remarks he made could have been otherwise casual and non-offensive, but could be used to justify antagonism toward the outed blogger - a "mob mentality" could erupt among his peers, resulting in one or more "cowboys" deciding to escalate matters on misguided principle.

There are far more IRL ramifications to exposing someone who spoke under the assumed cover of anonymity than there are in allowing anonymous sources to criticize public policy and the officials expected to uphold said policy.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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