Online Libel 101

Video credit: What not to say on social media – posted by citynewstoronto on YouTube

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Libel is defined as any published, false statement that is damaging to an identifiable person’s reputation. The topic of libel within social networking, particularly on Facebook and Twitter, has become a buzzworthy topic as more and more people are using social media as a platform for harassing and attacking others. Due to increases in online defamation and bullying, precedents for such matters to be pursued in a court of law have now being set.

 

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You are liable for everything that you post online — from tweets and mentions, to personal blog posts and updates, you are accountable for what you publish. The same defamation laws that apply to print media, such as newspapers and magazines, also apply to all social media sites and other mediums.

However, it is permissible to say negative things provided they fall into one of the following three defenses:

  • Defense of truth: If a negative statement is found to be true then it is not libel.
  • Public interest: If an intrusion of privacy or libel is found, but the published material is found to be in the public interest, then it may be considered not libelous.
  • Fair comment: Rooted in the idea that a well functioning democracy is one that allows for the holding of sincere opinions in opposition, the courts allow libelous material to be published if the defendant can prove that a ‘reasonable’ person could hold the same view and that the belief is sincerely held.

Note: If malice or personal grudge is found to be a motivating factor in publishing a negative statement, you have no defense. Additionally, comments made about public figures are more easily protected under these defenses than are those against private citizens.

Discuss

The Digital Tattoo Project encourages critical discussion on topics surrounding digital citizenship and online identity. There are no correct answers and every person will view these topics from a different perspective.  Be sure to complete the previous sections before answering the questions.

  • Have you ever had someone write something libelous about you on the internet? If yes, how did you react?
  • Are you mindful of what you post online and how it could affect others?

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