Social media has revolutionized our world, affecting the ways we communicate and share information. It’s also made it easier for individuals to share their minds. The surging popularity of Facebook and other social media outlets has raised interesting legal questions about what a person can and cannot legally post online. So what is the current word on Facebook posts? Can people sue us for what we say? As with any other medium, the answer is yes.
What Is Internet Defamation?
Defamation is a public false statement that harms a person’s reputation. There are two types of internet defamation: Libel is written (such as content in a Facebook post). Slander refers to spoken defamation. In an online setting, this refers to audio files, online videos, and podcasts.
It’s important to note that defamation is a false statement, not an opinion. Here are a few examples of what could constitute defamation online:
- A comment on a YouTube video saying that a band has no talent wouldn’t be defamation. This is an opinion, not a fact.
- A Facebook post calling an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend the worst person in the world. This is a hyperbolic opinion and isn’t actionable.
- A review of a restaurant in which you say, “Don’t eat here, it will make you sick,” might be actionable, since this is more than just an opinion.
- Similarly, saying something like, “I think the restaurant owner is abusive to employees” is more than stating an opinion and may be grounds for defamation.
What About Photos?
Posting photos of others online may be handled in a different manner. In general, you’re free to post pictures of people without their permission as long as you’re not doing it to promote or sell and if you took the photo in a public setting (for example, you can’t post a photo of someone that was taken through a bedroom window).
This assumes that the photos you’re taking of people are appropriate – it is never ok to post nude photos. In fact, in some states (such as California), posting nude photos of someone without permission is a crime.
Proving Internet Defamation
You must meet the burden of proof to win a defamation lawsuit, as you do most personal injury cases. Here’s what you’ll need to prove:
- The statement was worded as a fact, but it was false. A person can say that they don’t like a restaurant (an opinion), but they can’t say the restaurant management are thieves (stated as a fact, but can be disputed).
- A third party publishes the statement online. Calling someone a thief in a conversation or in a private email isn’t defamation. Saying it in a Facebook post is a different story.
- The statement was made intentionally. In legal speak, we say a person “did know, or should have known, that the statement was false.”
- The statement led to damages. You must prove that the statement led to tangible losses, such as lost business or income.
What Can I Do About Internet Defamation?
If you believe that you could be the victim of internet defamation, you can take these steps before getting a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer involved:
- Ask the person to take down the posting. An email or personal message is appropriate.
- Contact the website. Facebook allows you to report or flag posts that are inappropriate. Request that Facebook remove the post or comment.
- Send a cease and desist letter. If you make it to this step, you might want to consider getting a lawyer involved, since an official one will carry more weight.
If, on the other hand, someone accuses you of internet defamation, read through your comments or posts and adjust as necessary. If you receive a cease and desist letter, contact a lawyer for extra guidance.