Social Media and Libel – Being Careful With Your 140 Characters

Thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter anybody can publish their thoughts on an international, public platform.

Many people consider these websites to be an extension of their lives, commenting and posting without thinking that what they say could find them smack-bang in the middle of a lawsuit. There are hundreds of libel and slander legal cases every year that are the result of what somebody said over social media. While most people are aware that certain things on the internet are illegal, like piracy, hacking and fraud, they don’t realise trying to damage someone’s reputation online can also land them in a heap of trouble.

Think before you post

The old classic ‘don’t drink and dial’ can be applied to Twitter and Facebook as well. Before uploading anything online you should say to yourself, ‘think before you post’ or ‘don’t drink and post’ could save you a lot of agro down the line. It’s far too easy to become agitated and angry at people when you don’t have full control of your senses – leading to you posting cutting remarks about celebrities or businesses online which could find you in hot water.

Although you are allowed to express your own honest opinions, going too far by making personal attacks or serious allegations can have legal repercussions. Being under the influence of alcohol will not provide any flexibility in the law, libel is libel regardless.

When journalism goes too far

Social networking and blogging sites have led to a widespread increase in the amount of ‘citizen journalists’ there are. Anybody with internet access can report on what they consider to be newsworthy, this provides a huge range of new content looking into all sorts of niche areas. However, when these journalists report on matters that are not thoroughly researched, problems can crop up everywhere and libel cases can run rife. If you’re an online journalist you need to be very certain that the information you are sharing is accurate and that you’re not making accusations against anyone without definite proof.

Deleting doesn’t make it go away

Simply removing a comment or post doesn’t get rid of the problem; however the length of time the post was visible for may affect the amount of damages you have to pay. Just like words, once it is out there, it is very difficult to take it back – people have seen it, reposted it, and reacted to it, so the damage has already been done. You don’t even have to be the original poster to be subject to libel; retweeting or reblogging a defamatory post can have the exact same consequences as the original.