I am sure most of you out there have seen at least a million hurtful, untrue and damaging comments about a person or company that you know on social media. While most lay people will write this off as being “angry and jealous ranting”, it can in some situations amount to defamation.
What is defamation?
Defamation is the intentional spreading of false information about another person, group of people, or company that damages their/it’s reputation.
Prior to the involvement of the internet in our daily lives, defamation actions were generally reserved as being usually against newspapers, television and radio programs. However with the rise of Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of people who are now “blogging” for a living, the potential to damage another’s reputation has spread immensely.
Social media users may also be liable under defamation laws for merely “re-tweeting” or “sharing” the defamatory material even if they did not write the original. It also must be noted that defamatory material does not always have to be written. A picture, video or recording may also amount to defamation in some instances.
In the case of businesses, defamation may also bring a secondary action for economic loss which means you may be held liable for the amount of income a business has lost as a result of the defamatory material. This could potentially leave you hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.
There are two defences to defamation- that the post was true or that it was merely an opinion. Some posts may walk a fine line as to whether or not they amount to defamation, so think carefully before you put the statement out there. Once its up, its there forever. You may take it down after 5 seconds but someone may already have taken a screenshot of it by that time.
If you are accused of defamation, usually the best and cheapest solution is to remove the defamatory material, publish a retraction and make apology to the person who it has defamed. If you are lucky, this might be enough however be aware that in some instances the other party may still take legal action against you in court.
By Kaela Carter, Solicitor.