Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blogs force Rep. Truitt to blink

The legislation filed by Rep. Vicki Truitt -- summarized here -- has been withdrawn by her.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has the story:

Texas bloggers: Retract your claws. Vicki Truitt means you no harm.

The Keller state representative has been public enemy No. 1 for bloggers for the past three weeks because of a bill she pre-filed relating to defamatory comments on Web sites.

It turns out Truitt had meant to file a much narrower bill that was not directed at bloggers. She now plans to enter substitute language in January.

I don't really buy this premise of Ms. Truitt's, but let's continue:

Truitt filed House Bill 129 on Nov. 13, the first day lawmakers could file bills for the legislative session that begins in January. The bill specified that the author of defamatory statements expressed on the Internet would be subject to the same libel limitations as the author of any other statement "in any other written or graphic form."

Outrage on the blogosphere was quick.

Eileen Smith, editor of Austin-based, ripped into the bill two days later in a post titled "My Other Blog is Yo Mama." The post now appears on the first page of a Google search for "Vicki Truitt."

More than 30 readers commented on the post, many heckling Truitt. Noting that if the bill passed it wouldn't go into effect until September, reader Roaring Gnome suggested, "I think you should dedicate all posts after Sept. 1, 2007 to making fun of Vicki Truitt's absurdly big hair. It would NOT be a false statement, so I think you'd be covered."

More than 10 other blogs ultimately wrote about the bill in the ensuing weeks. Some latched onto the notion that they were free to say whatever they wanted about Truitt until the bill passed.

I didn't think there was nearly the blogswarm we needed on this in order to get the desired response. That Rep. Truitt backed off so quickly suggests she is an avid blog reader and was intimidated by our enormous power.

Or that she doesn't know a blog from Bergdorf Goodman (and is intimidated by our enormous power). Continuing:

Vince Leibowitz of Grand Saline analyzed the bill's wording on his blog He suggested that even though Web sites are already subject to libel limitations, the legislation could ultimately strip bloggers of the basic protections against libel charges that traditional media enjoy.

That prediction worried other bloggers, some of whom suggested organizing opposition to the bill.

"This is just another way to silence the little guy/gal," wrote Michael Davis, who blogs at

"I blog. You decide. Truitt sues," added a blogger on


Truitt's legislative director, Dan Sutherland, said that legal advisers had suggested broadening the bill's language to include all defamatory comments, but that stifling bloggers or anyone else on the Internet was never their intention.

"In the conversations I had with legislative counsel, we never talked about blogs," Sutherland said. "Apparently the people who write blogs think it was targeted at them, so we're trying to clarify it."

Sutherland described the blogger reaction to the bill as "amazing" but noted that allowing public comments to help reshape proposed legislation is part of the democratic process.

"It's not unusual for any representative to file something, and once people start reading it, they bring things to our attention they hadn't thought of or got lost in the translation," Sutherland said.

Truitt said she didn't intend the bill to be viewed as a way of silencing free speech on the Web, especially for those writing about public figures.

Once again, I doubt it. Nevertheless:

Smith, of, expressed surprise that Truitt's broadly worded bill was intended to be about something so specific as identity theft. Regardless, she said the furor over the bill has helped spark a dialogue about how blogs should be treated compared to traditional media.

"It has brought up interesting questions about how legislators are going to view blogs as vehicles of information," Smith said. "It's actually a good discussion platform for everyone to have anyway ... even if it wasn't what she intended."

And there you have it. The blogosphere just gained a little street cred.

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