Social media can have a significant impact on our impressions of other people. When you find that your reputation is at risk due to content posted on the internet via social media, quick action is needed. First of all, there needs to be a strategy to reduce its impact and to prevent further sharing of the material across many other sites.
Several routes can be taken to get the offending content removed and establish who has liability for the pain and suffering caused. However, it’s important to understand the issues around defamation on social media, the current applicable law and your legal rights.
What is a Defamatory Statement or Defamatory Content?
The law defines two types of defamation, both of which may be relevant to online cases. Libel relates to publications which are long-lasting such as when in print. Slander relates to more transient types of publication, such as through speech.
A statement will only be defamation in nature if it causes or is likely to cause serious harm to the individual referred to. So an opinion made in free speech may be distasteful or even false but might not be considered defamatory if no serious harm is done. On the flip side, trying to make a fact appear to be an opinion would not protect someone from a legal case.
‘Honest comment’ is one of the defences that can be used. This is the right of free speech allowing a person to express an opinion, even if it is prejudiced, exaggerated or obstinate. However, it must also be based on fact.
Defamation Act 2013
Defamation was based on common law in the UK. So that meant cases were decided by legal precedents which had been established by the courts. Common law often inspires new legislation, and that’s what happened when the Defamation Act of 2013 finally came into force on 1st January 2014 after years of debate.
Defamation comes under civil law in the UK, so that means that while the person making the statements won’t be subject to a prison sentence, they could receive a large fine.
It’s important to know that not only is the person who made the defamatory statement liable, but every person who shared it may also have liability. This means that anybody who has a role in the publication of defamatory material could be liable under defamation law. As a result, you could have a claim against someone who ‘shared’ a Facebook post or retweeted on Twitter.
Defamation: Social Media Content
Once information is posted in social media, everyone is free to share it across the world within seconds. That means that even if the author has second thoughts about the legitimacy of their posting and attempts to delete it, the shares and retweets continue.
Online defamation is not just a numbers game, though the more people who have read the comments on social media., then the risk of damage to the individual also begins to grow. It also needs to be recognised that if very few people have seen the details on the internet, whether via social media or a website, then a claim for libel may be rejected. This is because it may be challenging to establish that there was or likely to be any reputational damage.
Who Can Suffer from Defamation?
We often think of defamation as being something which happens to celebrities or politicians in the news, but its effects can be devastating to anyone. And it’s not just individuals that the law protects from the circulation of false information; a firm can also sue for defamation. A case related to damages to reputation would be applicable where they can show the court that there has or is likely to be a financial loss.
How to Prove Allegations of Defamation
Just because someone posts something about us that we don’t like, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a potential defamation case to be heard. In each case, three aspects need to be considered:
1. The Statement Must be Defamatory
The information published must result in the lowering of the individual in the estimation of members of society.
2. The Statement Must Have Caused or been Likely to Cause, Serious Harm
This can be to the individual or to the company who has been caused or it is likely to be caused financial loss.
3. There has Been Publication to a Third Party
The individual or business needs to show that the damaging content has been published to a third party such as Facebook or Twitter and that the defendant was responsible for their publication. The meaning of the words is taken into account, as we all know, it’s possible to read meaning into what’s been written where it was really not what had been intended.
So, this means that the court will generally look at the ordinary meaning of the words when considering what the response may be to someone who reads the complete statement of a document.
How Can a Person’s Reputation be Restored?
When information posted on social media has damaged people’s opinions, then there are actions that can be taken to limit the potential damage and compensate for any damages already experienced. Working with an online reputation management company who already has years of experience will ensure that an effective strategy is put into place by a team of knowledgeable professionals.
Removal of Defamatory Content from Social Media
As an individual, you can request that a social media company removes content from their website or platform. However, they are not always quick to act, and all the time that the content is online in public view, the likelihood of individuals sharing it increases. When seeking the help of online reputation management consultants with their experience of the law and legal issues, the timescale becomes much shorter. When they act, social media sites tend to take requests much more seriously and results are achieved.
Taking legal action and suing for defamation is an option but do be aware that the current time limits mean that a claim must be made within one year of the statement being made.
If defamatory statements have been made about you on social media, then there may also be many other legal routes in addition to a defamation claim and these could include malicious falsehood, breach of confidence and harassment.
Who Can I Bring a Claim Against?
You could bring a claim against the person who wrote the comment or against every person (subject to certain defences) who shared it. Defences of not being the original author are unlikely to give someone the right to avoid legal proceedings.
You cannot though bring an action against individuals who are not the author, editor or publisher unless it can be shown that action couldn’t be brought against the author, editor or publisher.
In terms of the liability of the website, internet service or social media platform, the law states that they can only be considered liable if you cannot identify the author of the comments.
What this does mean is that with expert guidance, you can be certain of establishing who would take liability for the defamatory publication.