There’s always something to howl about

A Simple Question, What Can You Blog About?

I imagine that many of the readers of this blog are bloggers themselves; who in their daily perusal of the blogosphere for inspiration and news land here as a reliant destination for intellectual discussion of the issues at the fore of our industry. If I’ve got the readership pegged then I will assume that most of you tend to write about the issues you feel most strongly about. Divorced commissions or Zillow or discount real estate operations are all part of the cacophony. Amongst this backdrop of honest, well-reasoned discourse I pose a simple question:

“What can you really blog about?”

Let the initial reaction of “anything I feel like” go by the wayside and think about it for a moment. What can you really blog about? The reason I bring this question up here is that there is a rather disturbing series of events developing in the blogosphere – not too far from the over at a web site called Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter. As members of the real estate community I’ll assume that you’ve heard of it – an f’d company for the new bust that is mortgage lending. It may be loosely grouped with housing bubble blogs; but really it is an aggregation of news and information about the “implosion” of the mortgage industry. It is written with a “Daily Show” sarcasm that I personally find enjoyable; and although it is a private site, conceived and started by one man – it has become the web site of choice for thousands in the industry each day looking for the latest news.

Regardless of your personal feelings about such housing bubble sites you must admit that ML-Implode is quite a phenomenon. One man starts with an idea – to aggregate and track the downfall of mortgage companies via a personal web site; suddenly thousands of people visit it every day for news and information. Such is the power of the Internet.

It is not unlike Bloodhound in that regard. Bloodhound started as one man’s idea and grew in to a vital resource of information and news for the (Any question about that statement can be answered with a quick look at the Technorati rank for Bloodhound.) While ML-Implode is a bit more sensational (as everyone loves a good trainwreck) it has many similarities to Bloodhound in terms of its importance to the industry, the discussion of ideas outside of mainstream media and thought, and a place free of corporate spin and public relations massaging.

So it is with great trepidation that I report on the unfortunate events that have conspired against ML-Implode over the past several weeks. You can read about them in detail here; but the gist of the matter is that a company cited on ML-Implode is now suing the site for the alleged deleterious impact that a news report on the site had on its business. The site filed a Motion to Strike against the company under California’s Anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. The concept is that those with resources sue those without regardless of the merit of the suit simply in an effort to silence the “have nots” who cannot afford the legal defense to be found innocent and continue their activities.

The Anti-SLAPP laws were written to protect individuals in precisely this type of situation. ML-Implode, as an independent, personal web site is not capitalized or built to fight litigation. It is merely a pulpit from which one man started to track a phenomenon. Unfortunately this week the judge overseeing this case has tossed out ML-Implode’s motion to strike under Anti-SLAPP protections and allowed the litigation to continue. ML-Implode is now looking at legal defense fees in excess of $50,000. Which returns us to our initial question. What can you really blog about?

It appears that if this law suit is lost by ML-Implode a dangerous precedent will be set allowing any company to file suit against any blogger who disagrees with the corporate message being handed down from the PR department. Think about the implications that this decision could have to all of blogging. Not just real estate, but environmental, social, human rights, political, religious, or any other contrarian view that finds a voice on a blog or web site could be instantly silenced by one well-timed law suit. The possibilities are chillingly endless.

Further, it puts the future of blogging at risk from any meaningful discourse. Who wants the risk? Who will be willing to face frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit simply to voice their opinion. I can guarantee you that the powerful forum that has become the would quickly be eviscerated if some of the companies repeatedly bad-mouthed decided to start filing lawsuits. That is where the fatal flaw of blogging lies. Because it is private discourse quickly amplified and spread it has the potential to be more powerful than one person’s voice could ever have been in the past. It also makes blogs easy targets for companies to silence by simple legal intimidation.

Anti-SLAPP is the right start, but when it comes down to it we are dealing with a question of free speech. A question of whether one person (or a collection of people) has the right to harness the power of the internet to create a powerful soap box from which to share their views with all who would read. A question of what protections do we as bloggers have against those that don’t like our opinions and outlooks. A question of what can we really blog about?

Whether you like or dislike the ML-Implode site for its choice in content is irrelevant. If you are a blogger who has a penchant for taking on subjects outside of the safe mainstream you must agree that their loss will be your loss. Their loss will be everyone in the entire blogosphere’s loss. ML-Implode is taking up a collection to protect their right to exist, I hope that you will find that their existence is directly tied to your blog’s existence and find a small way to help.

Freedom of speech is a powerful right that has allowed blogs to become a powerful news and information ecosystem. It would be a shame if corporate America trashes the whole thing for the sake of restoring the news to their personal PR vehicle.

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    9 Comments so far

    1. Cathleen Collins July 29th, 2007 9:10 pm

      How frightening! Shame on the courts if they allow this to create precedent. I’m surprised the ACLU hasn’t jumped on it… the overseeing judge seems to be practicing constitutional contrariness if I’ve ever heard of any… Thanks for spreading the word, Morgan.

    2. Morgan Brown July 30th, 2007 8:26 am

      I agree Cathleen – it is certainly scary for all of us if the company wins. I am surprised the ACLU isn’t involved either; I brought that to the attention of the site’s owner who is investigating that avenue further. Thanks!

    3. Roger (Mighty Mortgages) July 30th, 2007 9:29 am

      Yikes! That is really frightening. As a blogger as well, it really makes you think twice before hitting the “publish” button.

    4. Todd Carpenter July 30th, 2007 2:46 pm

      Acorn would be another group to reach out to for help

    5. Morgan Brown July 30th, 2007 5:26 pm

      Thanks Todd. You are right Roger – it really casts a pall on this notion of expressing yourself on your blog. Now everything requires a close read. I thought the point of blogging was unvarnished discourse with out the BS of the legal system. I guess not…

    6. Russell Shaw July 31st, 2007 1:13 am

      Litigation today is seldom a matter of fairness. The usual intent of a lawsuit is to harass and intimidate. Oh yea, and legal blackmail. None of this means this plaintiff will prevail and unless they can establish malicious intent, it is doubtful they will prevail if it goes to the appellate level. If this were me I would already be pushing to get the venue changed to U.S District Court (as that IS where it would ultimately be settled) and my attorney would be well versed in a First Amendment defense.

      Being there and communicating are THE two crimes of this universe.

      The correct solution is seldom to stop communicating. There have been several posts I’ve made where I had to seriously consider the possibility of litigation as a direct result of that particular post. If I know my facts are in order, I post it.

    7. Morgan Brown July 31st, 2007 11:03 pm

      I agree with you Russell. Just the fact of having to pony up tens-of-thousands to protect your right seems backwards. They’ve been in touch with the ACLU on this and are looking at all options to mitigate the costs of defending themselves.

    8. [...] industry implosion.  When the lawsuit was first announced many bloggers (including myself) wondered aloud about the stability of blogging about real issues in a litigious environment.  And while I always thought the suit was frivolous; this settlement is [...]

    9. Morgan Brown December 30th, 2007 6:15 pm

      Loan Center of California’s Suit Against ML-Implode Settled…

      The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter announced today the settlement of the lawsuit filed against them by the Loan Center of California. This is gre…