A member asked over 7 years ago

Defamation on Social Media

Is it against the law for someone to defame another person / organisation by making false statements against them? If so, what actions could an individual / organisation take to prevent this from happening?

Law Advisor Research Team
Researchers at LawAdvisor

Hi there. While not all false statements are unlawful, a publication that amounts to defamation may give the injured party a right to sue.

What is defamation?

For a statement to be considered ‘defamation’, it must:

  1. be published (i.e. communicated) to at least one person through words or images;
  2. identify the defamed person or organisation, either directly or through implication; and
  3. be 'defamatory' (i.e. convey a meaning that lowers the reputation of a person or business in the eyes of a reasonable person, or cause the person or business to be despised, ridiculed or avoided by the general public).

If all three of these requirements exist, it is likely that the defamed person or organisation will have a right to sue the publisher. Note that the publisher may have a legally-recognised defence. Generally, it is a defence if the defamatory material is substantially true, if it is a fair comment on a topic of public interest, or the information is not very important and unlikely to damage reputation. This is not an exhaustive list and the publisher’s possible defences will depend on the specific situation.

How can I prevent defamation from occurring?

If you believe that you are about to be defamed, you should ask the person not to publish the material and warn them that what they intend to do could amount to defamation. You might want to send the publisher a ‘Cease and Desist Letter’ which is a formal legal document requesting the other party to stop certain conduct and, if appropriate, outlining your right to take legal action. Pursuing either of these options may mean the matter is resolved without proceeding to court. In most cases, the threat of legal action is enough to prevent defamation, but if the issue persists or is urgent, you could seek an injunction from a court to prevent publication or continued publication of the defamatory material. Obtaining an injunction is a complex legal proceeding that requires expert assistance from a lawyer.

What can I do if defamatory material has already been published?

If defamatory material has been published, you should first ask the person to remove the publication (if possible). If the publication is on a social media, you could also report the post to the social media website or platform. As a last resort, you could exercise your right to sue the publisher for defamation. This must be done within one year from the publication date. If a court finds that the information was defamatory, you may be awarded money as compensation for damage to your reputation, any economic loss you suffered, and any hurt feelings.

Suggested way forward

Defamation law is complicated, especially when dealing with publications that are distributed online. Stopping the publication or further publication of defamatory material, or seeking compensation for harm suffered, requires expert assistance. Speaking to a lawyer will help you understand your legal rights and the best way to enforce them. By pressing the “Consult a Lawyer” button, LawAdvisor can help you search for experienced lawyers and obtain fee proposals for their services. Costs for legal advice and representation will vary between providers based on experience and the scope of services.

Answered over 7 years ago   Legal disclaimer

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