Blandy & Blandy LLP Solicitors

Insights // 01 July 2019

Defamation in the Social Media Age

Solicitor Eleanor Waters, in our Dispute Resolution team, discusses defamation law and social media usage.

We live in an age where social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are giving individuals the chance to voice their thoughts and views with the whole world. Consequently, an increased number of people are bringing defamation claims in relation to social media posts.

What is Defamation law?

The law regarding defamation is found in the Common Law and the Defamation Acts 1996 and 2013. The term ‘defamation’ covers libel and slander. Both terms concern the publication of defamatory material deemed to cause serious harm to the reputation of an individual. Slander is defamation through spoken/heard words whereas libel is the publication of a defamatory statement in permanent form. Online defamatory comments, for example, in a Tweet, Facebook post or website review would be considered libellous.

What constitutes a Defamatory Statement?

There is no single definition of what constitutes a defamatory statement.  Generally, a statement is not defamatory unless it is untrue and has lowered the reputation of the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society (Sim v Stretch (1936) and been capable of causing serious harm (section 1(1), DA 2013).

The courts have to decide the meaning of the alleged defamatory statement and what the statement causes right-thinking members of society to feel towards the subject of the alleged defamation.

Recent Case Law - Stocker v Stocker

A recent interesting case involved ex-partners and a series of comments posted by an ex-wife on an ex-husband’s Facebook wall. The exact words posted were: ‘he tried to strangle me’ and there was a dispute between the ex-partners about the meaning of the word ‘strangled’.

The case went to the Supreme Court where the Court gave the judgment that it would be wrong to engage in an elaborate lawyerly analysis of a Facebook posting. The Court advised that one needs to consider the ordinary reader of the post and in this case, the typical ‘fleeting’ Facebook reader scrolling through online posts.

The decision in this case encourages judges to consider ‘the social media user’, who reads and processes information in a different way to his predecessors.

Defamation can be a complex area of law; this in an area that partner David Murray can advise on. 

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.

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