Free Speech? Think Again
I can say and do what I want on Social Media – can’t I?
The world of social media can seem like a cocoon. It seems detached from real life – we can be who we want to be online and for some people, they really believe that this gives them the freedom to say and do what they want without repercussions but that’s just not true.
If you or your business has ever been on the receiving end of what feels like cyber bullying then you know how upsetting it can be. You work hard to build up your business and its reputation only to feel that it is in tatters because of a few choice phrases on Twitter or Facebook. You may feel helpless and feel that you can’t do anything, but just as you can stand up for your business in real life, you can do the same in the world of social media.
Is it defamation?
Defamation can be either written/printed words, images or anything visual which signifies meaning (libel is printed and slander is spoken). So a video on YouTube, some tweets or a digitally manipulated image on Facebook could all amount to defamation.
Basically, if the “publication” of the words or images etc would “tend to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally” then it could be defamation.
Are there any circumstances where defamation is acceptable?
There are some limited defences which include the following. However, as you’ll see, if a defendant (someone who has made the statement etc) intends to rely on a defence to whatever has been written then it’s up to them to prove it.
So what are the potential defences?
The fact that what is written is true (justification)
Someone can’t just say “but it’s true” and hope it goes away because whoever relies on that will have to prove it has substance i.e. that it is true on a “balance of probabilities” so it’s more likely than not to be true . Even then, there are certain things that you can’t rely on – for example, there are limits on publishing details about criminal convictions
The fact that what is written is a “fair comment” (an honest and sincere opinion) means all is OK doesn’t it?
A fair comment would be one that excludes malice but could include comments that are, for example, prejudiced or exaggerated. To use this defence the defendant would have prove that whatever they’ve said is expressing an opinion on something which is a matter of public interest – “people at large” need to be legitimately interested. Even then, the comment needs to be based on true facts and the defendant would need to show this.
Privilege and Absolute privilege
This relates to, for example, what is said in Courts or in parliamentary proceedings.
So what can you do if your business is a “victim”?
There are actually a couple of ways you can deal with defamation in social media and the first most practical way is to involve the website that the defamation occurred on. Most of these websites have various exclusions within their terms and conditions for their users (don’t forget to check your own website’s terms and conditions if you allow people to post comments and feedback etc) that would make defamation a breach of those. Involving the website owners by asking them to remove the statements unless they would like to be party to a defamation Court action often yields swift results!
In addition, contact the person/organisation who published (there are various ways of finding out who they are – they may run but probably can’t hide!) to make sure that they stop any further similar action and get it withdrawn/retracted and an apology issued.
Court action should always be a last resort but this is a situation which you should take legal advice about as soon as is possible to limit any damage. Contact Law Hound at firstname.lastname@example.org or get a fixed fee no obligation same day quote here: http://www.legaldocumentsonline.co.uk/questionnaire.php
Or call us on 01244 300413 for some free advice.