Social media is an important aspect of everyday life for the majority of people in the UK. 38 million people regularly engage in social media, but it often appears that many are unaware of the legal risks involved in comments made online. While overall defamation cases have been in decline, libel cases for comments made on Facebook and Twitter experienced a rise of 38% last year.
Due to factors such as the breadth of social media, relaxed atmosphere and supposed anonymity, social defamation cases are a growing feature in civil litigation globally. For instance, an Australian man in 2015 won a lawsuit against his estranged wife for posts she made claiming to be the victim of domestic violence, statements which she could not prove to be true.
Social media is a public forum, no matter if used as a tool to keep in touch with close friends and family or to discuss current events or follow celebrities, so it’s important to consider what you post and the potential consequences.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is a statement that damages the reputation of someone. This can come in the form of libel, which tends to encompass comments written, broadcast or published online, and slander, the spoken word. Cases of defamation must be brought to the attention of the courts within one year of the libellous comment being made, yet it’s also wise to leave some time before issuing a claim to allow for damage to be evidenced and/or a retraction made.
Defamation is unique among civil litigation in that comments are presumed false, meaning the burden of proof is placed on the defendant to prove they are true or that they genuinely believed them to be true. The Defamation Act 2013 introduced the requirement that the comments must have resulted in “serious harm” in order to prevent an influx of claims that are a waste of the court’s time, dramatically changing the legal landscape.
Such disparaging comments can come through any social media platform and aren’t limited to written comments. I once brought forward a claim after a competitor had photoshopped crude images of a competitor and posted them to Facebook. Therefore, defamation of character can occur on image or video sharing platforms, such as Instagram and YouTube.
The area of social defamation is still in its infancy and there is still plenty of discussion to be had in its development. For example, it is specifically excluded from the general rule that the jurisdiction in which the offense took place has authority, due to the worldwide nature of the Internet.
What steps can you take against Online Defamation?
Defamation cases should be brought to the attention of a legal professional if it could cause serious harm to the reputation of yourself or your business. As one of the few solicitors in Essex to practise defamation law, we have experience both defending clients from defamation claims and securing compensation for those that have been victims of libel.
If you would like dedicated advice on protecting yourself from libel online, or would like to pursue a claim on a no win, no fee basis, call our team on 01702 477106.
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