Thanks to the rise of social media, it has never been easier for all individuals, including high-profile ones, to get their messages out in the world.
The same goes for brands and corporations, who can now use social media to inform and interact with their fans and followers in a meaningful and genuine way. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok can all have a huge positive influence.
However, there is another, much darker side of social media platforms. The one characterized by trolling, cyberbullying, misinformation, libel, and slander on social media.
In this article, we will first deal with the basic concepts such as social defamation, social media slander, and libel. We will also take a brief insight into some specific social media defamation cases and offer a few guidelines on how to avoid defamation on social media or react if you’re being slandered on social media.
What Is Defamation?
We can define defamation as communicating false statements that can seriously harm individuals’ and corporations’ reputations.
There are two kinds of defamation. Libel is a written form of defamation, while spoken defamation is regarded as slander.
The claimant must base a defamation claim on three elements:
- The statement must be false.
- It must be communicated to a third party, not a claimant.
- The statement can potentially harm the claimant’s reputation.
While in other countries, the claimant can hold a third party responsible for every defamatory statement no matter what steps they took before publishing it, in the US, they must prove that the defendant was at fault.
This means the claimant has to prove that the third party failed to do something they were required to do when they communicated the defamatory statement. In the case of the private figure, they need to prove that the defendant acted negligently. If the claimant is a public figure or official, they have to prove the case with malicious intent – that the defendant was aware that the “statement was false or recklessly disregarded”, whether it was faulty or not.
What Is Defamation on Social Media?
It’s quite easy to upload and share content on social media, as it provides a sense of anonymity and loosened social norms. Users, especially high-profile figures, can be easy targets for social media defamation in such a surrounding. Some famous examples of social media defamation cases include Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Courtney Love, and James Woods. They have all been involved with numerous libel lawsuits over tweets, with mixed results.
A person can defame someone on social media by posting content that damages their reputation or character. They can post false information, exaggerate the truth or fail to provide the whole story. By “sharing,” others may be unknowingly participating in defamation of character on social media as well, often spreading the content to other social media platforms.
The wrongdoers can range from individuals who act independently, such as trolls and so-called “keyboard warriors,” to well-organized continual campaigns by specific groups.
Can You Sue Someone For Slander On Social Media?
You can surely sue for slander on social media, but proving the case can be very challenging at times. Naturally, it is much easier for politicians or celebrities with powerful legal teams to win a case than for private figures. Winning such a lawsuit isn’t easy or cheap, but with solid evidence, it is far from impossible, even for “mortals.”
So, can you sue Twitter for defamation?
The shortest answer would be to forget about it. Social media platforms are practically granted immunity under internet legislation known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They generally can’t be sued unless a key exception applies. So, if being slandered on social media, it’s best to file a lawsuit against the individual who posted or commented on the statement.
How to Deal With Slander On Social Media
If you are confident that you’re subjected to libel or slander on social media, there are a few steps you can take to try to fix the situation.
Sometimes ignoring is indeed the best option when being slandered on social media. Even though your first urge might be to respond, you risk getting involved in a flame war, which can cause even more damage. Consider the actual harm the statement may pose to your reputation, and think about your next steps thoroughly. However, whatever your next steps might be, ensure you’ve captured the published statement before the author deletes it.
There’s always a risk that the author will edit or delete the post, comment, photo, or article in question. To collect evidence of slander on social media, you need to capture a defaming statement quickly. It is advisable to use a tool to keep a defensible and authenticated copy that you can also use in court if the matter comes that far. A social media archiving system can help with that, especially if you’re an organization that uses social media to communicate with citizens, customers or the general public.
Consult a Lawyer
Engaging a lawyer will help you understand if you’re dealing with a genuine social defamation case. They will also be able to provide expert advice, guide you in the right direction, and help you decide what your next steps would be. The sooner you consult a lawyer, the better – it will prevent impulsive decisions or making any potentially harmful steps yourself.
Send a Cease and Desist Letter
One of the steps a lawyer might recommend when dealing with slander on social media is sending a cease and desist letter.
A cease and desist letter on social media is a document sent to the author of defamation statements demanding the cessation of such activity. An author can, of course, decide to ignore the demand. If this is the case, you would have to take the matter to court.
Still, a well-written letter from a reputable law firm is often enough to get a defamatory statement deleted or retreated. Even if some damage has already been done, a cease and desist letter can prevent further negative consequences.
Make Your Statement
While it’s far from advisable to jump into a Twitter or Facebook bout, issuing your statement to renounce a social media defamation claim may be wise. However, before creating and publishing such a statement, it’s advisable to get help from a communications expert or a PR firm. Your response should be balanced and calm, delivered through proper channels.
Take the Case to Court
Despite being your last resort, defamation claim is sometimes the only way to deal with libel and slander on social media. Particularly if the author ignored the cease and desist letter. However, the success of a defamation lawsuit on social media will depend significantly on the particular jurisdiction and the quality of your proof.
So, How Do You Deal With Libel and Slander on Social Media?
If you’re feeling like you’re being slandered on social media, act wise but fast.
Archive the defaming content as soon as possible and do so in a manner that will ensure its authenticity and defensibility so that you can use it in court. Before taking any other steps, consult a lawyer and a communication specialist to minimize the damage of the defamation claim and your potential response.
How to avoid defamation on social media?
Try to keep a positive image and avoid controversy as much as possible. Monitor your social media for any kind of negative posts made about you as they can lead to defamation. Note that there will always be people who want to do you harm no matter who you are. As for you defaming someone accidentally, always be factual in what you post and verify information before sharing, avoid posting controversial posts and badmouthing anyone, familiarize yourself with defamation law and understand its boundaries. In any case, always be prepared with all of your data archived and a good lawyer by your side.
Is a text message libel or slander?
Text messages technically fall under the libel category because they are considered written communication, unlike slander which is spoken. However, you should be aware that legal definitions can vary by jurisdiction in this case. If not made public, text messages can be considered slander in some cases, but if made public they are surely considered libel.
Is suing for social media defamation worth it?
It depends on various factors like the severity of the harm done, the strength of evidence you have, and the required resources for legal action. Most of the time suing isn’t worth it as it is costly and time consuming and in some cases might damage your reputation more than the defamation did. On the other hand, if you have a winnable case and the defamation was severe, you might be right to pursue legal action.
What evidence do you need to prove defamation?
To prove defamation, you will need evidence that a false statement was presented as fact, posted on a social media platform, and caused harm to your reputation. Depending on the jurisdiction, you might need to prove that the person making the post intentionally acted to cause you harm. You should also provide specific details about the damages resulting from the defamation to make your case more compelling. Since every case is different and defamation is a tricky topic, consulting with a good lawyer is always the best course of action.