09 February 2016
Twitter, Facebook and Libel – Be Careful What You Post
Social media is seen as the backbone of marketing campaigns, friendships, and celebrity gossip. But how often do you actually think about what you are posting? And has what you posted ever got you in trouble?
There are over 304 million active users on Twitter, over 1 billion on Facebook and 100 million on Instagram. Vast numbers of people use these platforms to post about everything from what they had for lunch to harmful and untrue allegations about others. What they (and you) post can give rise to a legal claim for defamation.
Libel is a published untrue statement that seriously harms someone else’s reputation. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published in a letter, in a newspaper, in an email or online on social media. If you have published something that is untrue and harmful to someone’s reputation then you could face a libel claim.
A tweet or Facebook post published in England and Wales is libellous if it seriously harms someone's reputation "in the estimation of right thinking members of society". It can do this by exposing them to "hatred, ridicule or contempt". It is a civil offence so you won't be jailed but if a successful legal claim is made against you, you could end up having to pay substantial damages and legal costs. Liability applies equally to retweets or any re-publication of defamatory material.
The best defence to a libel claim is if you can prove the contents of the tweet or post are true.
You may also be able to defend a libel claim if your publication was honest opinion. This means it was your honestly held opinion on established facts. Another possible defence is if your publication was protected by privilege, for example, if it was a fair and accurate report of something said in Parliament or in court.
The only way to be completely safe is to avoid tweeting or posting any damaging allegation unless you can prove that it is true.
The Defamation Act 2013 says that a statement is not defamatory unless it has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the person who has complained about it. So if someone just said that your tweet had hurt their feelings then it is unlikely that they will have a winnable claim for libel against you. If, however, they can prove that the bit of damaging gossip you shared could seriously harm their reputation, then you may face a claim for damages and costs which could be very expensive.
If you have been accused of libel, or if you believe someone has published something that has damaged your reputation, you will need the services of an expert defamation lawyer. The experienced and highly rated team of lawyers at Slater and Gordon are available to help.