Nilanjana Ganguly 18 Feb 2020


“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

- Mark Twain


Defamation and Social Media

When individuals feel their credibility is hurt by a careless comment made on social media like Facebook, Twitter or other online channels, they can consider pursuing a complaint against the offending party for defamation. We may be able to recoup money for the losses we have suffered through a libel lawsuit.

Online Defamation

During the 21st century social media grew exponentially with the emergence of different social media channels. In addition, online comment platforms like Yelp and review sites have allowed individuals to leave feedback that encourage thousands of people to read their comments. Many social media sites exist on the idea that information needs to be shared between users. This sharing often occurs without thinking about the truth of the information, or without regulatory oversight. Furthermore, anonymous profiles and websites allowed individuals to post instantly what they really thought. Some users assume a completely different FIND MORE LEGAL ARTICLES personality type any word(s) than they show in the real world. Commentators online may be rewarded with attention and public support when they blast other people. Most sites may check for inappropriate or pornographic content, but many do not screen for potentially defamatory content.

Potential Defamation

 While some plaintiffs may intend to prosecute Internet service providers or website servers in the hope of going after deep pockets, a federal law called the Communications Decency Act forbids defamation suits against those organizations.



Elements of Defamation

Although the laws of each state can differ, the central elements of a defamation suit are explained below. Generally speaking, defamation is a false statement that is made public and injurious to the reputation of the victim.

False Statement

A survivor has to be able to prove the statement was false. The reality is that a defamation lawsuit is a complete defense. The burden of proof for defamation lawsuits rests on the plaintiff party.


It must present the alleged defamatory statement as a fact and not as an opinion. Nonetheless, an opinion may be considered a statement of fact if it would have been viewed as such by a reasonable person.



Published can mean literally in print, for instance in a newspaper or on a website.  Proving that a message has been released is typically not difficult for a case involving social media, provided the claimant can prove by writing it out that the material was on the website. Similarly, the content is considered published whether it is read by three people on an obscure website, or read by 300,000 people on a popular social media account.



In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a defamation lawsuit, he or she must be able to demonstrate that the defamatory statement has in some way damaged him or her. This can be interpreted as proving the harm was substantial, quantifiable and recorded. This is usually achieved by showing the damage to the victim's image. If the individual being attacked online was running a business, the loss of business or income will show damage. Many comments are so inherently harmful that a victim may not have to demonstrate any actual harm, such as statements accusing the person of committing a crime, being incompetent in his or her occupation, having some sexual behavior or possessing an infectious disease. A common test to determine whether a person's credibility has been harmed is whether that statement will cause the peers of the individual to think less about him or her.


Example of Online Defamation

Not every statement which is untrue or unkind is actionable. Yet there are many statements. For example, if you accused a person of abusing his or her spouse or children on social media, that statement would probably be considered defamatory if it were not true. Even if an individual posts partially true and partially false information, he or she may be held liable for defamation. For example, a person can claim to have been fired for assault on an individual. The person could have been fired for harassment but not. Despite any truth to the assertion the court may found defamation still existed.

Let's say you've got a blog and you wrote that, two weeks ago, ‘A’ hit his wife. If that statement isn't true (remember, truth is one of defamation's absolute defenses), it's defamatory. There's no way this statement isn't defamatory if it's false.


Are Opinions Protected?

But let's get this statement qualified. Let's say you wrote, "I think ‘A’ hit his wife two weeks ago." Opinion statements are not statements of fact, and thus are theoretically protected from libel suits. But, is this really an opinion statement? Sometimes statements of opinion are really seen as factual statements, depending on the circumstances. The average person may very well look at your statement as a statement of fact in this case, depending on how well you know ‘A’ and his wife, and why you think ‘A’  hit his wife.

The bottom line: Just because you're phrasing something as an opinion statement — "I think" or "I believe" — doesn't automatically protect you from a claim for defamation.


What if the statement is only in part true?

Let's take one more example. Let's say you wrote on someone else's Facebook page that ‘X’ had been fired from her job because she made a serious mistake and her company lost a significant client as a result. Again, it's almost certainly defamatory when this is a false statement. But what if it's true she made the mistake but the company didn't lose the customer? What if its company actually fired her to appease the customer? You certainly wrote something that was false (at least in part), but it may not have been defamatory overall.

The bottom line on this type of situation: if you're blogging or writing on your Facebook page, or submitting comments on someone else's blog or Facebook page, make sure you've got all the facts right before posting your statement on the internet. When you click on "submit," you will not be able to take it back.

If it's a close call, or, better, why mention it at all? To use our example, why do you need to write about ‘X’ being shot on someone else's Facebook page? You don't know all of the facts unless you are the one who fired her. It is a good idea to exercise utmost caution when posting posts or comments online or on social media, and avoid making any "gray area" claims that might be construed as defamation.


Problems of Online Defamation

The internet and social media are definitely a great thing for people and society at large, but they are also a fascinating breeding ground for potentially libelous comments.

Most people have learned (to their dismay) that the internet makes it almost too easy for people to speak out. The internet is chock-full of interesting websites where somebody could leave a potentially defamatory comment or post intentionally or accidentally.

Few of these locations are :

·         Letters to local newspaper publisher

·         Public comments on media websites (i.e., newspapers or magazines)

·         Blogs and comments concerning blog posts

·         Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin

·         Chat rooms or mailing lists

While some websites screen posts for inflammatory or illegal content, screening systems aren't geared to examining every post for defamatory content, and so many defamatory posts end up online.


What State’s Law Applies?

This is a complicated issue that depends on the state in which you live, the state in which the suspected defamer resides, and if any, the interactions the defamer has had with your State. When you believe you have been defamed online, you can contact a professional lawyer to discuss your legal options and best course of action as soon as possible.

Can You Sue The Service Provide?

One reason that you may want to sue the website's host or internet service provider (ISP) who posted a defamatory statement is the "deep pockets" argument.

ISPs or website hosts could have more money— and hence more ability to pay a judgment— than some blogger posting a defamatory statement about you. However, for better or worse, a federal law called the Communications Decency Act specifically exempted website hosts and ISPs from most claims of defamation.

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Debosree Kar   19 Feb 2020 6:57am
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