You can say that, but…

…only as long as you are aware of the potential consequences.

The recent national story about Congressman Anthony Weiner’s Twitter posts plus some of the comments posted to the recent Petaluma Patch article, Police launch active investigation into Aqus Cafe vandalism serve as the background for this attempt to again cover the issues of

  • Free speech
  • Appropriate speech
  • Legal liability and other consequences for the author (anonymous or not) of the posted words or photos–whether they be in a forum, an article comment or in a blog

This article is a summary of the several articles posted in the past.


In today’s online world, you have the ability to exercise your power of free speech on any number of news websites that permit blogs or public postings to news stories, on-line forums or other message boards and social media sites. However there is no absolute right to say or write anything you want without risking litigation or other consequences.

As a user of such websites, including the social media sites, you should be aware that these sites have user agreements dictating that the author of any blog, post, or comment is responsible for its content.

For purposes of this article, think of “Free Speech” as a large ocean with two shores, or boundaries if you will. For convenience, I will call them the Criminal Liability Shore and the Civil Liability Shore…

  • On the Criminal Liability Shore, you will find several prohibitions against “incitement” with the classic example being that of Oliver Wendell Homes–You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Updating Holmes, you had better not exercise your “Right of Free Speech” by saying “bomb” at an airport, unless you enjoy the prospect of suffering significant and swift consequences.
  • On the Civil Liability shore, you will find numerous restrictions and potential litigation on what you can say or write due to trademark and copyright laws. In addition, there are the classic twin specters of defamation claims and potential libel suits.

In between the two shores, there is a vast ocean of unrestricted speech–ideas, criticism, argument, advocacy, complaints, general ranting, etc. The contents of this ocean are only regulated by…

  • Social convention–e.g. there are certain things one should not say at a wedding or an office party…or in some bars after midnight.
  • Employer rules, policies, and regulations
  • Contract or agreement–such as a website user agreement.


Defamation (Libel & Slander) is an extremely complex legal topic. Almost every word used to describe the parameters of defamation is a term of art with a mountain of case-law behind each word or phrase…publication, distribution, retraction, trade or business libel, malice, actual malice, intent, negligence, etc.

  • From a practical standpoint, not every disparaging, critical, negative, or derogatory statement constitutes legal defamation. By case-law, public figures and elected officials must endure even more than the average person, as they must prove “actual malice” in the publishing of an alleged defamatory statement.
  • Even if defamation is established, proving up damages is not always an easy task.
  • On the other hand, as a litigant defending against a defamation claim, you may be forced to spend a considerable amount of money to prove your defense. In short, you may win against the defamation claim…but you will be broke.

In my opinion, most (if not all) of the risks of potential defamation claims can be avoided by the use of a little common sense and common courtesy when posting on a public forum.

Now, for those who still want to push the limits–and, in my opinion, they know when they are crossing the line–I suggest they read the next section.


Screen names are not a protection against discovery

I have a natural bias of wanting to know the author of anything I read and believe that people should put their name behind their words. For example, can anyone imagine John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence as BIGJOHN?

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that the use of screen names is acceptable although I prefer otherwise.

How you act behind the screen name (i.e. what you write) is an entirely different question. You are ultimately responsible for what you say whether as “Big John” or John Hancock. 

There is a belief by some that you can say anything under a screen name and never be held accountable if a person or a business suspects a criminal or civil law has been broken and decides to pursue the case in court.

The practice of allowing the use of screen names is not an implied permission to engage in defamatory language or to violate the terms of a website’s user agreement. You do so at your own risk, particularly in the area of business or trade libel.

In my opinion, if there is litigation generated by an anonymous posting or series of posts, a  website is going to give you up in a New York minute.

Think about it…before you post your next brilliant “flame” for all the world to see…

Oh, one more thing. For those who are inclined to post photos of themselves on social media sites, do not use former Congressman Anthony Weiner as a role model. His photos may not have been “illegal”–but they certainly had consequences.


2011…Time for a new route or an old rut?

The end of a year is a time for reflection and so it is that I find myself ruminating over the keyboard during this last week of 2010…

“We know what we are, but we know not what we may become”- William Shakespeare

I have no great words of wisdom or forecasts for 2011 except to note that the Gales of Change will continue to blow in 2011. At a minimum, we can expect further disruptions in the economy, government budgets, and the general well-being of society.

In short:

  • It is more than likely that 2011 will not be a good year.
  • We will be fortunate if it is no worse than 2010.

The above notwithstanding, I offer two futuristic observations on our digital communications media world in the coming year(s).



The almost relentless drive to digitize all forms of consumer media will accelerate in 2011

DVD’s and CD’s will be harder to find as they are replaced by downloads and on demand services. The pressure to buy e-books, to watch movies online, and to consume music by download will continue.

Large scale Sunday newspapers may soon disappear…

Eventually, everything will be available online–exclusively–for consumption on an electronic device…

  • Digital downloads will generate a tremendous savings in resources previously dedicated to producing and distributing consumer books, recordings, magazines, newspapers, DVD movies, etc.
  • Homes will no longer be cluttered with books, magazines, photo albums, and recordings.  They will be available online and on demand…for a fee of course.
  • Public & private libraries will no longer be necessary in an online digital world.
  • Book stores, like the Dodo, will become extinct.
  • Book signings will be replaced by Facebook entries & Twitter Tweets.

Eventually, all human generated content and information–writings, books, film, photos, government records, business records, personal records, and archives–will be stored in a central computer cloud…and accessed through a wireless umbilical cord.

Of course, there is one question… will control the cloud?Storm cloud asking…


To Tweet or not to Tweet–That is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Facebook fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of social media links*

Recently, I have been reflecting on two books (hard copy versions) that have stirred my little gray cells in the spirit of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. 

They are interesting contradictions, these two books…

Both can be read at several levels… 

  • The first deals with the tensions, dynamics, and strains of creating something in and for the “real” world.
  • The second describes how the “real” world is being replaced by the Virtual Internet Worldwith its infinite array of marketing, news, and social media communication channels…the latter filled to the brim with a stew of 140 character texts, digital snapshots, video clips, and banal messages–a world where constant communication is more important than content or context. It is a world we have yet begun to understand as it changes our entire media landscape…and us. ***

In musing over the information and ideas presented in these books, I asked myself two questions for 2011…

Is it time to find a new route in the new Social Media?



Is it time to go back to the future and stay in the old rut?

After careful deliberation, my answer is…the old rut!


Simply put, I have no interest in contributing to the digital vapors of the new “social” media.

I find less and less reason to follow, much less take part in, a virtual world where people, for the most part, would rather commune with others on their mobile devices or computers instead of engaging in face to face encounters.  I am well aware that this is the reality of the day and it is not going to change. I do wonder if this is not one of the reasons why some decry the increasing coarseness of, and rude behavior in, society…

Could it be that we are losing our ability to interact and communicate personally because it is so much easier to do it through a surrogate electronic device?

I have always tended to pick the “road less traveled” in the spirit of Robert Frost or to cheer the underdog in conflicts and see no reason to change now.

Therefore, I will continue working in the now out of date world of 300 to 800 word blog articles written and formatted as if they were set out on a real page with large scale photo prints. While read or seen by few in the Virtual World, as they are not suited for quick consumption on handheld screens, it is the course I elect to maintain. ****

Looking ahead to 2011, my plans are to continue posting articles from time to time on such topics that may come my way–usually by way of photographs made during the month.

  • If you care to follow along in 2011, there is a free, easy e-mail subscription section in the right hand column on this page. 
  • The Photo Blog (Click Here) will also continue in 2011. As with this blog, the Photo Blog has a free subscription link if you care to follow my irregular photographic meanderings. The subscription link is at the bottom of the page

In closing, Happy New Year to one and all. It’s going to be a bumpy ride to an uncertain destination.

Strap on your seatbelt and…Fingers crossed


  • *With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare!
  • **I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a sense of the changes in our media world in terms of how they took place and what lies ahead.  It is extremely well written and documented.
  • ***This “virtual” article is the equivalent of five 8 1/2 by 11 pages set in size 11 Georgia font. It contains 1153 words, 6,524 characters with spaces, three full-sized photographs, five emoticons, and six notes.  Obviously, it is hopelessly out of date by current Internet writing standards!
  • ****As an alternative explanation for my decision, I borrow a few words from that great philosopher from Texas, Waylon Jennings: “I’ve always been crazy and the trouble that it’s put me through…I’ve always been different with one foot over the line…I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”


  • For those not familiar with Petaluma, the first photo is a composite of two exposures of the Clock Tower at the corner of Western Ave and Petaluma Blvd.
  • The “tunnel” photo is a triple exposure of the inside of the Waldo Tunnel approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • For larger views, click on each photo.


Claques For Bloggers…Blogging For Claques


In previous posts, I attempted to discuss how the Web and communications technology have become pervasive in our lives and of the need to set human boundaries for their use. See The Web Is Too Much With Us? and Petaluma’s Brave New Google World?

A recent experience taught me that while the Web may be relatively new, it is also a medium for one of the oldest scams in the world…fans for hire–Claques.

First, A Little “Techno” Background…

WordPress has an extremely effective (not to mention well-regarded) spam program to protect bloggers from having to deal with rogue or spam comments. In my case, an average of 775 spam comments/month.

The Akismet program does sort out a few for review by the blogger to determine whether they are valid comments.

When I opened up my WordPress a few days ago, I noticed that Akismet set aside three comments for my consideration. I also noted they were all from a site offering a prepaid computer generated comment service… 

“We gather 1000 blog posts and submit 1000 general comments to all of them. Usually the acceptance ratio is 20-30% so a total of 200-300 backlinks.”
“This is an automated process and we can therefore not guarantee a certain amount of blog comments but our experience tells us that app. 20%-30% goes through.

This will give you a boost in traffic and rankings. We use more than 100 premade comments that are all very general and will fit into all blog posts.

We also run our software through proxies. This is a perfect booster for a new started website or a great way to gain lots of links to your established sites quick and cheap.

Please make sure you are not banned by the Akismet wordpress spam filter otherwise very few comments will go through.”

SAMPLE COMPUTER GENERATED COMMENT–“omg a number of the feedback most people make are such stoner remarks, now and again i question whether they honestly read the content pieces and reports before posting or if perhaps they basically skim the titles and publish the first thing that comes to mind. anyway, it’s pleasant to read through clever commentary now and then compared to the exact same, outdated post vomit which i usually notice on the internet.”

Claques For Bloggers…Blogging For Claques…

Hiring favorable audiences or claques is an ancient tradition.  It is a well known practice in many opera houses to this day. In fact, claques may be hired to boo as well as to applaud a particular performer.  Not unlike current American politics, now that I think about it.

I suppose somewhere out there in Cyberspace, there is a program that also writes generic blogs to be matched up with computer generated page hits and comments. In theory, a blogger could sign up for both services, solicit advertisers and voila!–an instant money machine without any human involvement.  (Warning! Don’t give up your day job!)


A Tweet from Ogden Nash…

I asked Mr. Wordsworth to provide a few lines of poetry to close this epistle, given his donated wisdom to my earlier posts. Unfortunately, his computer was on the fritz and his mobile device had lost its charge.

I close instead with a 21 Century Tweet from Ogden Nash…

When surfing the Web, don’t you be Bait

When surfing the Web, Discriminate

Be aware of the Claques

Beware the Quacks

When Elephants

Dance with Sycophants


Don’t let the Cons

Put you On


Petaluma’s Brave New Google World?

The story about Petaluma’s efforts to become a test city for Google’s new super high-speed Internet service was breaking about the time I was absorbing the reactions and comments to The Web Is Too Much With Us?

A few quotes from the March 4, 2010,  Argus article by Philip Riley illustrate the potential scope and size of the Google effort:

“Google says that its new ultra-high-speed network could revolutionize what is possible on the Internet, so when the company announced that it would test that network in one or more communities across the country, Petaluma jumped at the opportunity.”

“It’s almost unimaginable what types of benefits it would have,” said Tim Williamsen, the city’s information technology manager. The technology would create Internet speeds 100 times faster than the average connection, with speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. Besides blazing download speeds, if the network comes to Petaluma it could bring high-tech companies, jobs and tax revenues with it, Williamsen said.”


If Petaluma is successful with its Google application, it will be a powerful and significant event for the City and for individual citizens. 

As an aside, I can now envision the jockeying for position by neighborhoods and businesses to be the first to be connected. It does not take too much imagination to conjure up several future stormy Council Meetings coping with this process. 

After all, let us not forget we are talking about Petaluma…

Whether or not Petaluma’s application is accepted, the Internet speeds contemplated by Google will eventually arrive here and elsewhere–sooner rather than later…quicker than a kitten on the keys…

  • When ultra high-speed service becomes generally available, will we have the collective and individual wisdom to use it to enhance rather than control our lives?
  • If Petaluma is selected as a Google test city, will the way we adapt and adopt it serve as a model for others?

On one level, these are more difficult questions to answer than the “hows” of the engineering,  technical, and construction work required to install it.

Remember the cautions offered in the comments to The Web Is Too Much With Us?

  • “… I have learned that in today’s world it is almost impossible to have “private” and “special” moments…”
  • “…there is more to life than virtual reality and trivia overload, that there is strength and grace and understanding in reflective solitude.”
  • “…It is imperative that everyone multitask at all times. The thought of “quiet time” is actually frightening to many. The idea of having to come to grips with their inner self by spending time reflecting is not on the radar of activities.”
  • “…(We have to know when to) Turn it off. Disconnect from the web of chatter and noise and indulge your soul in the absolute bliss of silence. You can always plug in again later.”
  • “…I need a regular dose of good, old-fashioned interpersonal communication and eye to eye contact to keep me on track and in touch.”
  • “…Technology is a tool, not a lifestyle.”

Playing off the last comment, I turn now to another cautionary 21st Century tweet from William Wordsworth…

If needs must

The Web is too much with us

If  tools

 make the rules…

The Web Is Too Much With Us?


This article is the product of my efforts to elevate my understanding of the impact of communications technology to a higher level of confusion.  

For convenience, I use the term “Web” to encompass all forms of communications and entertainment technology and software–the Internet, social media, cable, satellite, new media, e-mail, mobile devices, laptops, desktops, notebooks, cell phones, mobile networks, ipods, etc.




Clearly one of the largest impacts of the Web has been on how we get our news. 

With a few clicks of a mouse or a search from a mobile device, we can access news sources from around the world. Moreover, it is a bilateral exchange if readers post comments to what they read, making traditional letters to the editor somewhat archaic. Add the proliferation of online equivalents of classified ads (e.g. eBay or craigslist) and you have a print newspaper industry struggling to survive and traditional radio and TV scrambling for multiple outlets on the Internet and mobile services.  

I’ll leave the future of the print industry and electronic news media to others to explore, except to note that the forces of the Web are affecting not only how we get our news, but from whom. 

Blogs and community bloggers (paid and unpaid) have been a growing source of news at all levels.  

In recognition of this trend at the community level, the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of California, Berkeley is conducting a workshop in March “… for journalists and others who are…becoming independent publishers of specialty blogs and hyperlocal community news sites that play a central role in the emerging news and information landscape.” (See Changing times in journalism and media!‏)

Petaluma’s Frances Rivetti  (Sonoma Country Life) will be one of the participants in the UC workshop.*


The Web has extended the reach of our human experience… 

  • If you have a question, you GOOGLE it. 
  • If you need to research a service provider or contractor, you check with ANGIE.
  • If you want to sell or buy something, you go to the AMAZON or check with CRAIG.
  • If you have a few moments to reflect, you can read your FACEBOOK.
  • If your tooth turns blue, you see a dentist. If your BLUETOOTH malfunctions, you go to RadioShack.
  • If you go out to eat, you may TEXT your friends or send TWEETS on your TWITTER between courses.
  • When you get home, you may YELP about your experience–if you did not already do so during desert.
  • Even better, if you go to a SPEED DATING session, you may do all the above in ten minutes or less!
  • If you get lost coming home from your speed date, you can GPS.
  • After arriving home, you may turn on your 50-inch LED flat screen and watch four shows simultaneously on one screen courtesy of ATT&T U-verse TV .

I wonder, however, if ordinary mortals don’t need a workshop on how to cope with the avalanche of information and communication. By my observation, it has become an all-consuming task for many, if not a lifestyle.  

Many, if not most, coffee shops I frequent have free Web access and are often filled with people communing with their laptops or mobile devices. Few are conversing with each other.

The “need” to communicate and to be constantly connected to the Web has almost become pathological based on examples from my experience… 

  • Cell phone calls from stalls in public restrooms
  • Calls to the office from a trail in Arches National Park while complaining about the lousy signal
  • Two men on a trail in the Muir Woods (cyborg phones in their ears), texting away and muttering, “I can’t get a signal!”
  • Teenagers in any size group walking down the street with their eyes fixed on their mobile screens

Our job as “consumers” of media is to sort through it all–or to ignore it if we so elect. It would be helpful to have some guidelines to assist in this sorting process–with perhaps a touch of instruction on the use of  practical critical thinking in judging what we see and hear.

This is all well and good for those of us who know, or should know, when to turn it off and return to the “real” world.  However, what about those whose life experiences and reference points are only Web based?  Endless streams of information and data do not produce understanding, much less wisdom. 

Many years ago, Marshall McCluhan commented on the societal impact of television with his famous–The medium is the message. However, what I fear now is a Web medium that is fracturing into an infinite number of voices–infinite until each and every soul on this planet has a Facebook page.

  • Could it be that we are headed for a society where relationships with avatars are more important than relationships with humans?
  • Is virtual reality the coming reality? 


If  William Wordsworth were alive today instead of the 19th century, perhaps he would have expressed his famous lament about materialism in a tweet such as this… 

The Web is too much with us, late and soon   

Our hearts now gone for a downloaded tune!  

Texting & Tweeting, we lay waste our perceptual

For little we see that is not simply virtual

When we have gone too far and virtual is actual!


(Alternate Tweet)

The Web is too much with us…

When Avatars

Drive Our Cars

To the Bars


*Update 3:48 p.m. March 1. 2010. Frances Rivetti posted Revelations of an Ever Evolving Web News Frontier, which addresses many of the issues raised in this article. 

Related Links