Recently we have seen a number of high-profile defamation cases and settlements relating to tweets posted via Twitter, broadcasts including TED talks, public speeches and e-mails. This trend is likely to continue as we use social media to vent our frustrations or make political statements, without giving much thought, if any, to the consequences.
For most individuals and businesses, online reputations are now more important than offline ones, so it is not surprising that such mediums are actively monitored and protected. Social media is changing marketing and brand management. Most businesses rely on public reviews to establish trusted brands and seek to guide contributors in the right direction. Some go on to moderate reviews before publication.
Elon Musk recently won a defamation claim against him in the US, brought by Vernon Unsworth, following a Twitter row where he called Mr. Unsworth a “pedo guy”. Mr. Unsworth sought $190m (£145m) in damages from the Tesla founder, on the basis that this tweet damaged his reputation. Elon Musk’s lawyer introduced the concept of “JDart” to describe his tweet as a joke that was badly received, which resulted in it being deleted with an apology and tweets to move on from the matter.
Here in the UK, investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr is the subject of a defamation claim by insurance businessman Arron Banks, who funded the Leave.EU campaign group. The claim relates to the meaning of statements in two public talks and two tweets relating to electoral funding and Mr. Bank’s relationship with Russia. In a recent preliminary ruling, Mr. Justice Saini said that an overly legalistic approach to meaning should be avoided, as an ordinary person watching or listening to a broadcast or public speech would not take such an approach.
So, can you use the internet to express an opinion or criticism? How far can you go, especially if your comments are critical and unlikely to be well-received?
As explained in our defamation articles Parts 1 and 2, in defamation law, an honest opinion is a defence to a claim. Therefore, leaving an honest review or comment about an actual experience or product is not a problem. To meet the defence, a statement should be stated as an opinion, with details of the basis of it, and, beheld such that an honest person could have held the opinion based on any fact, which existed at the time the statement was published. You should avoid leaving any review based on hear-say, intended maliciously, untrue or exaggerated.
Claims for defamation (libel or slander) must be brought within one year of the date of publication. For material that continues to be published online, the countdown starts to run from the date the material was first published.
All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.