We live in a world where information can instantly be shared around the world in a matter of seconds. Information is freely exchanged and everyone is able to have a voice online via social media sites, blogs and forums. However, this means that damaging, false and harmful comments can easily reach the public sphere where they can be read by anyone and everyone.
We should all put a lot more thought into what we post online if we want to protect ourselves. Although lots of websites check comments and posts for hugely inappropriate comments and foul language, they rarely check the facts.
Anyone can post information with incorrect facts. Before you post something on social media, consider whether there is anything that could get you into a sticky situation, legally and professionally speaking.
What is defamation?
Defamation is basically the act of publishing false information. If this false information damages a company or individual’s reputation, they may feel the need to take legal action. It’s fair to say that defamation on social media is a ticking time bomb, and the best thing people can do is educate themselves about the risks.
Reputations can be destroyed in an instant by careless comments and posts, even when the information shared is not true. In the digital age, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are perfectly designed to quickly share information, but it’s surprising how many people don’t check what they are sharing.
People can go online whenever they feel hard done by or irritated by something and post negative comments. For example, sharing details of a negative employment experience, or spreading false rumours about a competitor who has poached your clients. It’s all well and good letting off some steam, but at what cost? These sort of comments on social media are public, and may come back to bite you.
There’s been a rise in defamation actions and with the increase in social media platforms where you can have a voice, it’s not surprising. The main issue is that a lot of people don’t understand that they are legally responsible for anything they write. Twitter is one of the biggest culprits, and with Tweets being shared at an alarming rate, one little comment can go a long way.
Defamation and social media - things to be aware of
If you run a small business or just want to protect yourself, there are some basic rules to follow.
● It’s always best to seek legal advice if you are concerned about anything you are posting on social media.
● Whenever you do share content or information, make sure it’s correct and truthful. Consider whether it would cause any harm to the person in question’s reputation.
● Educate yourself and be fully aware of your responsibilities online. Speak to your lawyer about things you can and cannot say, and know that whatever you post on social media, you are responsible for.
● Always remember that whatever you post will be publicly accessible as soon as you post it. Anyone could see it and share it.
● Keep in mind that it’s not just what you write that you need to worry about. You can also face issues if you share someone else's post, such as retweeting a Tweet on Twitter. ‘You may not have made the original allegation, but retweeting it could be seen as an endorsement. You could be accused of making a defamatory statement, and you could be sued.’ [BBC]
● Deleting a comment may not protect you, because other people may have shared or saved your comment. Although, the length of time it is visible could affect the amount of damages you would have to pay.
Please note, we can’t be held responsible for any of the above information, each case is individual and if you have any concerns you should seek legal advice right away. Should you find yourself in a defamation dispute in relation to social media, get in touch with Kirwans, as they can provide you with the legal advice you need.