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Social Media and Defamation

Defamation and Social Media

 

For those of us who can recall the bleak days before the internet, defamation was something that was reserved primarily for celebrities who took offence at something that appeared in the gossip pages of a national newspaper. With the increasing use of social media (over 37 million people in the UK actively participate in Facebook alone) this is something which we all need to think about.

 

So what is defamation?

Defamation has 2 forms

–         Slander, which is spoken and

–         Libel, which is “printed”

 

Of course it obviously includes words, what you say or write, but it doesn’t stop there. Visual images (cartoon, drawings etc) and any other form of visual or audible media which has the capacity of signifying meaning can also be included.

 

There isn’t a single legal definition of defamation but through case law we know that its definition would include “the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.”

 

So how does that impact on social media?

Social media is still a relatively “brave new world” and most of us do and say things that we wouldn’t do in real life. There can be a sense that you can be whoever you want to be and somehow hide behind the internet. So whereas you may not ever say something rude about someone else in the street, social media somehow provides artificial courage or a shield as you see in online forums and posters flaming each other.

 

Give me an example?

Opinions are readily expressed on sites such as Twitter and Facebook and those debates can often get heated. This, fuelled with others coming in to take sides, can cause a lot more being written than was originally meant to be.

Cases started in the USA – look up the case from a couple of years ago between Courtney Love in a heated exchange with designer Dawn Simorangkir on Twitter.

 

Things swiftly moved to the UK, with cases like the one brought by the former  New Zealand captain Chris Cairns who was awarded £90,000 against former chairman of the Indian Premier League, Lalit Modi who made allegations of match fixing against Chris. This has set the precedent for lots of other small payouts since then of £10K and under.

 

So what should I do?

There are several important things to remember when using social media and the internet generally

 

(1) It IS real life.

What you say and do has real life implications so use the same personal guidelines that any reasonable and prudent person would when face to face.

 

(2) It is permanent

What you say may well be recorded there for good. You may not always be able to delete what you write and even if you think you can erase all trace most things are not capable of permanent deletion unless you are both an IT expert and have complete control and ownership of the platform you are using.

 

(3) It may not be private even if you think it is

Dependent on which website you are using you may have privacy settings so that you can limit those who can see what you are writing and displaying. However, don’t imagine this will stop someone rebroadcasting –  some common ways of “sharing” include

(1) manually copying and pasting for e.g. a tweet

(2) screen shots which are uploaded as images

(3) just as you can listen in to a telephone conversation and can probably work out who’s on the other end of the phone so is it equally possible to find out topics of conversations and #mentions.

 

(4) What an employee says may affect you

Many businesses encourage the use of social media to build up the business profile. However do bear in mind that any business should have a social media policy to ensure that employees know what they can do and say and what is not permitted. As an employer you are vicariously liable for your employee during the course of their employment so using your business social media account may see you having to have to foot the damages bill if something goes wrong. You also need to think about how easily your business reputation can be damaged if it is involved in a defamation allegation.  Legal defence costs and reputation loss can ruin a business.

 

If you find yourself the victim of defamation then do take advice because at the very least you need to put a stop to it. Contact Law Hound – theteam@lawhound.co.uk- or phone us on 01244 300413 for a free chat – or get a no obligation fixed cost quote on line here: http://www.legaldocumentsonline.co.uk/questionnaire.php

 

 

 

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