Last Updated on 15.2.23 by Danielle Clements
Social Media has undoubtedly changed the way we communicate forever, it grants us an unprecedented look into the lives of our family, friends, colleagues and well, just about anybody if you know their name.
There are lots of undeniable benefits to social media, people are more connected, news travels faster and we are able to interact and share experiences (pictures of cats and food) with people anywhere in the world.
However, such ease of access to our peers and popular figures creates its own set of problems.
Whilst social media has been in most of our lives for a while now, it’s still relatively new to society and the legal implications of one’s behaviour online is not yet common knowledge.
I often hear people say ‘I can’t get in trouble for what I post on Facebook, It’s my profile and I have the right to say what I want’.
No, you don’t.
When you share on social media, you share with the world. Anything you post becomes public property, and if deemed to be defamatory, can be used as evidence against you in court.
That’s not to say people aren’t entitled to an opinion, you aren’t breaking any laws posting your honest-held views, even if they are particularly harsh or controversial.
It’s when general insults become false, targeted accusations where the trouble begins.
There are 2 types of defamation, libel (written) and slander (verbal). In the case of social media, any case of defamation would be classed as libel (unless you get creative and post it as a video).
Any online post is potentially libellous in England and Wales if it damages somebody’s or a business’s reputation or provokes hatred or ridicule towards them.
Even if you weren’t the person who posted the comment, if you share or ‘retweet’ it you could open you up to libel as you are seen to be ‘endorsing’ the message.
You don’t even have to name the specific person or business in your allegation(s), if there are enough details that the intended victim is clearly identifiable, you can still be sued.
Once a defamatory comment has been made, deleting it may not be enough to avoid repercussion. If the victim has taken a screenshot or somebody has shared the comment, the proof will exists beyond your personal profile and will be very difficult to take back. The length of the time the comment has been up and publicly visible can also reflect on any punishment handed down.
Libel is a civil charge, not criminal. You won’t go to prison but if found guilty you will likely be liable for a heavy damages sum. Especially if you are being sued by a business where potential loss of earnings could also be factored in to the total.
As libel is only enforceable if what you are saying is proven to be false, when accused of making defamatory statements your defence will rely on your proving that what you have said is true.
If you feel like you are currently a victim a defamation, our experienced dispute resolution team are on hand to help.