Defamation of Character and Libel on Social Networking Sites

Cross Border Issues Regarding Social Networking Defamation

Different jurisdictions apply different rules to what is regarded as defamation as well as to what is regarded as the liability of the parties involved. Because of the cross- border nature of the internet, it is important to at least identify the minimum common denominators which apply among various western jurisdictions, in order to deal with online defamation.

Generally speaking, there is almost a universal defence to defamation and this is the defence of truthfulness, which would provide a party, accused of delivering defamatory remarks, with a blanket defence against any such allegations of defamation. Whenever the comments or material posted contain factual information, it is relatively easy to ascertain the facts and decide whether or not they are truthful. If for instance a purchaser of a DVD player online claims that the newly purchased DVD broke down after 2 weeks and that the vendor refused to provide refund – this would be a factual issue.

Opinion And Defamation of Character

The problem normally starts where people post comments, which contain their opinion about the vendor or the goods purchased. For example, if the purchaser of a DVD player in the above example states in a forum comment that the vendor is a fraud or a bogus business, then the person posting the comment may well land himself in a more risky area of posting defamatory comments. To avoid getting in trouble for defamation, it is therefore best to stick with the facts and avoid providing own interpretation for the reasons behind the negative experience.

The most risky comments are those which imply dishonesty or the breaking of the law by the vendor, where this has not been proved in a court of law.

The 2 Most Common Types Of Online Defamation Of Character

The 2 most common types of complaints about online defamation are in regard to those comments which are made by individual purchasers of goods or services and those comments made anonymously by competitors. The comments made by one company against another tend to be more capable of being defamatory because there is almost always an element of malice attached to them, as opposed to being a fair comment.

In relation to defamatory comments made by individuals against other individuals, those tend to be very harmful because of the gossipy nature of those comments. The public regards gossip as an acceptable form of freedom of speech, which means that those who make these defamatory comments don’t necessarily see them as being capable as attracting a claim for defamation. This of course is wrong because defamatory comments, whether made by individuals against other individuals, or whether made by individuals against corporations have the same effect of being lies, which could spread very rapidly across the internet as well as off line and cause serious injury to their subject. The culpability of individuals and corporations therefore is the same and in both cases by spreading lies online they create a potential legal action for defamation.

Who Can Be Held Liable To Libellous Remarks Which Are Posted On Forums And Social Networking

Social networking sites are becoming a safe haven for those who wish to harm others by posting lies or gossip. It is the newest form of bullying and harassment, where the bullies find it convenient to hide behind the obscurity which social networking provides. The nature of what constitutes ‘defamation’ has largely remained unchanged for generations. What is not clear is to what extent those who permit such publications should be held liable. A person who posts lies about another individual whether by using social networking or by more traditional means such as newspaper articles, carries the same liability as they did in the past. But if traditionally newspaper publishers were to be held liable for postings made by readers in their publications, it is not clear now whether or not hosts of social networking sites and blogs carry the same level of culpability in relation to online defamation. There is therefore a grey area here but it is not in relation to what is regarded as defamation or the liability of the person who posts the untrue comments. The grey area is rather in relation to how far down the chain do people and organisations who run the social networking and blogs remain liable to what is being published on websites which are under their control.

Freedom Of Speech And Online Defamation

Thoughts are only capable of being defamatory once they are published. It is almost universally accepted that freedom of speech is not an absolute right and restrictions are being imposed on freedom of speech, whenever a state feels for example that its national security could be compromised. Almost every state in the western world has got in place emergency measures, which very often include at least some sort of restriction on freedom of speech. By definition, laws of defamation have also got an element of restriction on freedom of speech. It remains to be seen whether those restrictions on freedom of speech should or would be further restricted in the future. In the long term, I foresee a shift in the way of thinking in terms of how we perceive and understand freedom of speech should operate. I believe that it will not be long before legislators in various states will come to realise, perhaps due to being personal affected by the issue, that freedom of speech should be restrained in some way in order to protect not only the economic interests of corporations, but also the well- being and quality of life of individuals who would find it almost intolerable to live in a society where everyone in effect, is a fair target to publications of defamatory comments. This however, might not happen immediately and mainly for political reasons, things will probably get worse before any serious changes to rules governing freedom of speech are to take place.