Internet Defamation Law is becoming an increasingly important problem. Bloggers and anyone else using social media need to be aware of what they post online. There is a serious threat of what you post can result in litigation.
Yelp, the popular review site, has been at the center of the debate because people are using the service to write reviews that are untrue.
A $1 million judgment, including an injunction and costs was granted against a defendant who persisted in posting false and defamatory statements in online forums regarding his fraudulent transactions at the expense of an online company. (thanks @jdtwitt)
How do you know if a statement that is written online rises to the level of Defamation?
Defamation is an invasion of the interest in reputation and good name of a living person, which holds that person up to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or shunned by others (William Prosser, Law of Torts 737 (4th ed 1980). You can sue both an individual and a company for defamation. Libel is written defamation, slander is oral. A defamation claim may also raise the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Publication: The statement must be disseminated to a third party before a lawsuit can be commenced. What this means is that other people must be aware of the remark before you can claim that someone’s business interests are damaged.
If the conversation is in email form and only the sender and recipient are involved in the conversation, there is no cause of action. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally protects online service providers from being sued as a result of defamatory postings by users.
Damages: You must prove that you have been harmed in some way. There are some cases where you don’t have to prove damages. They are:
- any remark about the unchastity of a women (sounds really antiquated)
- imputation of a crime or of a loathsome disease
- any statement about that person that affects his or her business reputation.
Before you race over to my office, you need to consider the following issues to assess whether there are any defenses :
- Is the work a parody? “Fake” Web sites and social media profiles appear to be a developing trend.
- Is the person a alive, a public figure, private person or politician?
- Is there anyone else objected to the post?
- Are the statements made wrong?
- Has anyone changed any of the content?
- Is the statement or any of the alleged remarks true?
- Is the remark accurate?
- Has the publisher of the statement checked whether the remark was accurate?
- When was the statement made? You must be aware of the statute of limitations.
- Does the person who you would like to sue have insurance? Without a deep pocket, your judgment is worthless.
What should you to protect yourself from Defamation lawsuits if you are a blogger?
If you are a content provider or blogger, you may find yourself facing a defamation lawsuit even if you did not write the remark. For example, you may be liable for not reviewing the material posted on your site. I would recommend that you purchase E&O insurance. You should also check your homeowners insurance policy, as many policies provide coverage for defamation related lawsuits.