About a year and a half ago Don Packett, a local blogger, commented that Gavin Sharples, a local motivational speaker was, among other things, a "wanker" and commented further on how he ran his seminars. Sharples took great exception to the comments and instructed his attorneys to address his apparent defamation. A debate then ensued on Jo’blog, the blog that these comments were published on, and the offending post was deleted. I remember when this incident flared up and the general feeling was that the whole thing had been resolved once the post was removed.
Then it seems that the issue flared up again in December 2005 when Sharples’ lawyers again contacted Packett to discuss the matter further:
Well paint me red and call me Susan, looks like the whole Gavin Sharples issue is sorted. We finally got to meet with him on Monday, and once we got the lawyers to shut the fuck up, we spoke. Turns out (and I want to stress that we were not told to write this) the guy was pretty cool about everything, basically saying that if we can get the page lower on Google and remove his name from the site, we can just let everything rest, no more lawyers fees and no damages.
For the record, we have spent between R40k – R50k on our lawyer alone, we need to cover Gavin’s legal bill, so I guess it will be close to double. That’s then a nearly R100, 000.00 slap on the wrist.
My wrist is pretty sore.
Part of the problem, by this stage, was that the story had come to rank quite highly on Google so any efforts to search for Sharples on Google brought up the comments in the search results in a fairly prominent position. I just ran a Google search myself and I see that although the original post was deleted, Google’s caching engines have preseved a portion of the post for all to see:
The Sunday Times has now just reported that Sharples agreed to settle what appears to have been a defamation action against Packett (I am not sure if the other bloggers on Jo’bog were cited as defendants) on the basis that his costs be paid and the offending comments be removed.
This story is a pretty good illustration of some of the dangers of blogging. When you blog about someone you could be defaming them and while blogs are intended to facilitate conversations and the sharing of ideas, people are often not as understanding and bloggers still run the risk of defaming their subjects in the process. Moreover, these comments are often linked to and this boosts the rankings on search engines which, in turn, cache the pages and preserve them long after the original post fades from view or is even deleted. I am sure these issues will receive more attention in the coming months and years as blogs become even more prevalent here in South Africa. It will be interesting to see if higher search engine rankings will be taken into account when determining whether a person has been defamed.