#Fakenews: Real Damage – Tackling Online Defamation

22 May, 2018

In a #fakenews climate, it can be difficult online to identify the truth.

 

Comments made on social media, either deliberately (sometimes maliciously), or carelessly as to the truth, can inflict serious and long-lasting damage to a reputation, destroying relationships and (in the case of an individual) jeopardising employment prospects.

 

In law, a comment is defamatory if it is untrue and causes serious reputational harm.

 

Those who find themselves the victim of online defamation can consider taking the following action:

1. Contact the Author
Request the removal of the comment by communicating with the author of the defamatory comment directly (keeping it private if possible, through a direct message).

2.  Report the Comment
 As well as the above (particularly if you cannot identify the author in the first instance), the comment could be reported to the social  media platform in question, as a violation of its terms of  use (platforms are now particularly conscious of not being seen to  facilitate online abuse).

3.  Seek Legal Advice
The above are practical steps which can be taken without instructing a solicitor. However, particularly if a company has been defamed (and may have suffered considerable financial loss),  we recommend seeking legal advice from a solicitor specialising in defamation law before contact is made with the other side, in order to:

  1. Advise on an appropriate legal strategy, considering available  remedies, including: damages; an injunction; and/or the  court  ordered removal of the defamatory comment;
  2.  Issue a Letter of Claim (as appropriate), under the Court’s Defamation Pre-action Protocol; and
  3. If required, act as intermediary in any negotiations with the other side.       

There is limited scope as to what the Court can award a successful party at a defamation trial beyond damages (it cannot order an apology, for example), and so the best outcome may be achieved through negotiations with the other side, outside of litigation, against the background of a Letter of Claim and the threat of legal action.

 

Defamation is increasingly problematic for individuals and companies alike online, as comments can be published in only a few seconds, with little thought.

 

Each case will turn on its own facts, so it is recommended that legal advice is sought at the outset of a potential dispute so that any initial actions/communications avoid potentially prejudicing the victim’s position and the best case is put forward.

 

Further reading: Taking Action against Online Defamation