Libel and slander are familiar terms to journalists and the general public. Commonly known as types of defamation, it’s a writer’s job to know exactly where they stand when making claims about a person’s work or behaviour in a news story or they risk being accused of either of these acts. But what about social media? In an age when everyone is a publisher, I began to wonder whether the laws applied here too.
So what is Defamation exactly?
Since the advent of Facebook, we’ve all been guilty of oversharing on social media, yet how many of us are fully aware of what could happen if we tweet a controversial opinion or even allude to an incorrect fact about someone publically or privately?
As a CIPR member, I benefit from access to an enormous amount of resources, so as part of this year’s CPD, I decided to delve further into the subject of social media and the law. As one of the keys tools used within the PR profession, the ever- expanding nature of social media means that best practise can get confusing and lines can be blurred.
With the ability to post anything at a moment’s notice in between coffees or whilst on your commute, the platforms to get your thoughts and opinions heard have never been more within reach, but before you reach for your smartphone, read these points and you may think twice about commenting on the latest gossip.
- You’re not the only one at risk of a lawsuit – If it can be proven that you posted a defamatory statement against a person or business during office hours you’re putting not only yourself, but your company at risk of legal action.
- Beware of high profile court cases – During high profile trials, posting anything that states a definite opinion (ie. “I can’t believe that person did that…I’ll never trust that high street store”) before the verdict has been finalised can be seen as defamatory and if the defendant is found not guilty, you could risk legal action.
- “No one follows me so it doesn’t matter” – Whether your post is seen by one or one million people, the consequences are the same. Even if you weren’t the original post-ee simply liking, sharing or interacting with the post in any way that supports the defamatory statement puts you at risk.
- Innocent until proven guilty? – Not in defamation cases. When charged with defamation, it is your responsibility as the defendant to prove beyond a doubt that you meant no harm to the individual’s/ company’s reputation.
Top Tips to Takeaway
Unless you’re willing to stake your career on it, leave your personal life and social media updates to out of work hours.
Don’t be scared to have an opinion, after all that’s why most of us have a love/hate relationship with social media, and as storytellers, it’s a PR’s job to have well-formed opinions. If there’s one thing we recommend, it’s that you should avoid statements such as “this person definitely did this” without the evidence to back it up. Forewarned is Forearmed as they say!