Social Defamation

Michael Lodge

by Michael Lodge

Social media is fun at times, but when you are personally attacked, or your business is attacked and individuals make statements of untruth that they have no idea what they are talking about, and it is about you – defamation becomes legal on social media.  You have to protect yourself and let people know your business takes these statements very seriously.  When you post a disparaging remark about a company or people in the company, without knowing the whole facts, and not just one person sees it but many people see it, you have set up a legal situation that people should take very seriously.  We as a firm watch it very carefully, we watch what is being said and what we say.  But you have to protect your online reputation as best as you can in this big wide web of social media.  Sometimes firms are hit with crises issues regarding employees.  The employee may have done something that the firm is not even involved.  However the name is associated with the employee and then the firm has to go in defense mode so that damage to the reputation is now grown by people making disparaging comments about the firm on social media.  The person commenting on the firm has made a disparaging remark about the firm but knows nothing about the real status of the firm.  The person should have said nothing because now they have opened themselves up to defamation issues.

Examples of Online Defamation

Let’s look at a couple of examples of the kinds of communications that might amount to online defamation. Let’s say that you have a blog and that you wrote that John Smith hit his wife two weeks ago. If this statement is not true (remember, truth is one of the absolute defenses to defamation), it is defamatory. There is no way that this statement, if false, is not defamatory.

But let’s qualify this statement. Let’s say that you wrote, “I think that John Smith hit his wife two weeks ago.” Statements of opinion are not statements of fact, and so theoretically are protected from libel suits. But is this really a statement of opinion? Sometimes statements of opinion really are viewed as statements of fact, depending on the circumstances. In this case, the average person may very well look at your statement as a statement of fact, depending on how well you know John Smith and his wife, and why you believe that Smith hit his wife.

The bottom line: Just because you phrase something as a statement of opinion — “I think” or “I believe” — does not automatically protect you from a defamation claim.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say that you wrote on someone else’s Facebook page that Mary Johnson was fired from her job because she made a serious mistake and, as a result, her company lost an important client. Again, if this is a false statement, it is almost certainly defamatory. But what if it is true that she made the mistake, but that the company did not lose the client? What if, in fact, her company fired her to appease the client? You have certainly written something that was false (at least in part), but maybe overall it was not defamatory.

The bottom line on this type of situation: If you are blogging or writing on your Facebook page, or submitting comments on someone else’s blog or Facebook page, make sure that you have all of your facts absolutely straight before posting your statement to the internet. Once you have clicked “send,” you can’t take it back.

Or, alternatively, if it is a close call, why say it at all? To use our example, why do you need to write on someone else’s Facebook page about Mary Johnson being fired? Unless you’re the one who fired her, you don’t know all the facts. In submitting posts or comments online or on social media, it is a good idea to exercise the utmost caution and avoid making any “gray area” statements that could be construed as defamation. (NoLo Press)