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I will be creating a blog article that talks about Illuminati in our local country. I will be talking about the "organization's" role in making specific artists popular (for a duration) and in return the artists will follow the organization's orders, and their work will corrupt the minds of the people to further the Illuminati's agenda. I will be connecting the artists' personal lives to the conspiracy. My problem is, I will be listing the local artists that may be involved, and I will be posting pictures of them wearing items of symbolic importance, or having such symbols in background.

Please refer to this for local law reference. Also our country is also member of the UN, and this text from the UN Declaration of Human Rights is relevant:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. - Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I truly understand that I need to seek legal advise on the matter, but I also need to know how to write to avoid libel issues. How do I tackle this, still revealing the artists, but playing it safe? What writing approach should I take in order not to be hit with a libel suit? What wording can I specifically use or avoid?

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Note that while it's possible to write so that a libel suit would be weak, there's really no defense against spurious or far-fetched suits, which can be costly and exhausting to defend against even if you're certain you'll ultimately win. –  Standback Mar 9 at 8:12
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I've edited your question fairly heavily to attempt to bring out your meaning. Please don't hesitate to further edit this or revert my edits if my guesses as to what was meant are wrong! –  Neil Fein Mar 10 at 2:06
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Folks, it's easy to mock conspiracy theorists, but there's a valid question here about writing. Let's give this user the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is a serious question. –  Neil Fein Mar 10 at 2:09
    
thank you for all the support and all your points will be noted! –  rahstame Mar 10 at 6:18
    
Primarily, if in any doubt, state clearly that you express opinions, not state facts. Your rights to express opinion are protected. Person's rights not to have slanderous falsehoods about them published are protected as well. The difference between the two are that you may presents truthful facts about given person, or truthful facts about your opinion (however wrong and misguided) about that person. –  SF. Jun 16 at 11:40
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5 Answers 5

There is no way to absolutely prevent lawsuits; if you're going to cover controversial topics and name names, there's a risk that people will get upset and seek to take action. But there are some things you can do to "write defensively", so to speak. Following are some things I was taught in college in a journalism context.

  • Attribute claims to sources. Don't just say "so-and-so secretly works for this organization"; show how you know. "According to {the organization boss, last year's tax filing, such-and-such article in the newspaper...}, this person wroks for...". Don't originate claims if you can instead report them.

  • Have sources. Often the truth is a defense against libel or slander, so if you do get sued, being able to prove what you said will be enormously helpful.

  • If you need to make claims of your own, phrase them so as to show a path from what you know to your conclusion. Don't just assert. "We know X and Y, and in other cases X and Y mean Z, and it seems to me that Z is possible here...". Sometimes this involves "weasel words" ("maybe", "it appears", etc) and that can be distasteful. I'm not saying that you shouldn't make strong assertions of fact; I'm saying that you should choose when it's important enough to do so.

  • Unless your specific goal is some sort of polemic or other "rile people up" presentation, keep the rhetoric and emotions in check. If your presentation sounds calm and logical it may upset fewer people. Nobody likes to feel like he's being ranted about.

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Hello Monica, very informative post! I learned a lot from it. You covered all my questions and given concise explanation. –  rahstame Mar 10 at 6:37
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I'm not at all sure what you're trying to do. Are you writing satire? As far as I know, there isn't really such a thing as the Illuminati. The Bavarian Illuminati was a pro-Enlightenment movement that more or less dissipated in the 19th century, and while many other people have claimed over the years that there are shadowy figures behind everything, this group represents perhaps the silliest of all the silly conspiracy theories.

So given that, I would say that accusing someone of being a member of the Illuminati would be seen by your country as the attempt at funny satire that it's presented as. Fire away. Say that the person in question is a 9 foot tall lizard as well so you can bring David Icke into the equation.

If you're really being serious... it's a secret group. They're not going to sue you for libel because then they'd have to come out and say that there truly is an Illuminati, maaaaaan. They'll just stalk and kill you in the night or perhaps build a robot replica of yourself and replace you one day while nobody else is watching.

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Thanks John for this, writing satire is a point for me. For the matter, there are many givens out there, and a lot of cover ups. Like what you've said it's a secret group, so they would rather tell the people false information and hid their existence. –  rahstame Mar 10 at 6:41
    
Sillier than Nazis on the dark side of the moon? I think, you do not know much about conspiracy theories ;) –  John Smithers Mar 10 at 10:31
    
Um, I'm pretty sure I was only referring to conspiracies that aren't actually true. –  NotVonKaiser Mar 10 at 20:39
    
Just one small quibble - If an individual is a member of the Illuminati, then he doesn't need to admit to being a member of the Illuminati to file a libel lawsuit - in fact, quite the opposite, he needs to claim that he's NOT a member of the Illuminati, and that the author in question has damaged his reputation with a lie, by stating that he IS. –  Cmillz Mar 13 at 21:40
    
Which he would NEVER do because to state that he is not a member he would have to admit to being a member of the Rosicrucians. If you add up the letters in that sentence they add up to 23. EXACTLY –  NotVonKaiser Mar 14 at 5:02
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If you want to avoid libel, you need to either not name real people, or not say anything you won't swear to in a court of law.

There are some jurisdictions where simply claiming "this is a work of fiction" is enough. But there are other jurisdictions where that fig leaf is not enough, but a stronger disclaimer that your claims are false would suffice. But, in actuality, the only way to make an untrue statement about someone and not run the risk of a libel claim is to not say anything about a real person that you wouldn't testify to in a court of law.

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Too many legal questions to ask writers about. You need advice from a legal expert on the laws in the jurisdiction where you are publishing. Libel laws in the UK and US are quite different (but I'm not an expert). And to get useful advice, you need to have a completed manuscript that the expert can review. Anything else is pointless hypotheticals.

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If you have seen what you are writing about yourself, then it is not libel. Also if you are using pictures as support for your story, then I would be inclined to blot out the faces of people in the photo's unless they are publicly protesting and looking for public support for their cause. Back to the start of this answer, you could be libel for a statement if you heard it from someone else, even if true, but not if you were the person that it was aimed at and therefore you are just recounting personal involvement. Please be aware that this is in my country though and I can not talk for your laws.

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