The rising numbers of individuals and companies taking legal action after allegedly being ‘defamed’ online is making some bloggers and internet reviewers twitchy but is this really a reason to abandon your freedom of speech?
Of course it’s not but it does pay to be in-the-know whether you’re planning to name and shame a company or have your say about your local politician or councillor. The fact is the number of libel cases are on the rise, and have been for years as noted by the BBC at bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14684620, and so it makes sense for regular social media users and bloggers of all kinds to be aware of what you are and aren’t allowed to do.
Understanding the Law
Defamation laws can be complicated but the key to compliance is understanding the basic rules. In simple terms, according to the Find Law Website at findlaw.co.uk/law/accidents_and_injuries/defamation/500050.html, defamation results from you making a statement that can ultimately damage another person’s reputation.
This may make you think that your days of having your opinions heard on Facebook or Soap Box Shout are firmly numbered if this is the case. Surely the point of some of your posts is to alter people’s opinion of another individual or company’s reputation?
The good news is that defamation laws aren’t designed to curtail free speech, just to prevent its misuse and there are plenty of defences to having your say. The most important thing to remember is that what you post must be your ‘honest opinion’ – even if your facts turn out to be incorrect. You can’t just make facts up and expect not to face trouble.
You also have the right to say things ‘in the public interest’ or because you have reasonable need for your voice to be heard even if it is later viewed to not have been that essential to the public after all. The overall theme is easy to see; you can have your say but you must have a genuine reason for posting and what you say must be based on fact (satire is a whole other story).
You may resent these restrictions but, in context, it is easy to see why they exist. They do not stop you having your say but they can stop people with malicious intentions from deliberately damaging someone else’s reputation for no good reason. Consider if it was you they were libelling on the internet; surely you would want some power of redress? Mind you, finding the money to pursue a defamation suit against someone else is another matter entirely.
There are other defences to defamation such as privilege and qualified privilege and serious bloggers would do well to do their own in-depth research. Even if you do think you have a good grasp of libel law, however, do not think twice about getting professional advice if a law suit is threatened. It may be a costly business but not half as expensive as the damages you may be ordered to pay if your case is not handled correctly.