Open Question: Does a link = endorsement?

The tricky business of hyperlink intent.

Open QuestionThere’s an interesting case going on in Canada in which one man is suing another for linking to allegedly defamatory articles. Not writing those articles. Linking to them. Ars Technica has a great overview of the case.

The story got me thinking about the intent of hyperlinks. Specifically:

Is a hyperlink assumed to be an endorsement of the ideas, conclusions or statements contained within the linked-to material?

My own hyperlinking behavior is largely endorsement driven. If I like something, I link to it. But is that a rule? Of course not. I may link to material because I disagree with it, or I have an alternate perspective, or I’ve written a counter-point of some sort. In these cases, I consider the links to be “references.” Combined, these reference links represent a minority of my total hyperlinking output. My endorsement-to-reference ratio is in the ballpark of 10:1. I often endorse, but not always.

But here’s where my hypocrisy flares up. When the scenario is flipped and I run across someone else’s links, my default assumption — unless contextual cues are abundantly clear — is that the link creator is recommending the material. That’s unfair, but it’s what I do.

What I’d like to know is if I’m alone in this. Is there an “intent” discrepancy between the links you create and the links you read? Do you assume that link = endorsement? Please weigh in through the comments section.

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