Social Media and Defamation Laws – What Everyone Should Know

In recent years, with the rise of social media, there have been many questions surrounding the use of social media and defamation laws.

While those in the publishing industry have been aware of these laws for as long as they have worked in the industry, social media and defamation laws are still considered to be a grey area. It appears we have a gap that needs to be addressed – the gap between reality and belief.

The reality is that uploading or sharing a post, or posting a comment on Facebook and Instagram is still publishing, and is covered by the same laws as print media. Social media and defamation laws should be a real concern to everyone online, and we should also be passing this information on to children.

Many believe that the laws relating to defamation are still too loose, and need to be tightened to ensure that social media publishing is covered without any of those grey areas.

And while this is true, it does not mean that online publishing is excluded from the law. It is certainly included, and must be taken seriously.

With so many keyboard warriors out in the digital world, and an increase in defamation lawsuits relating to online media, it is vital that we get the message across to as many people as we can.

So, if you were to have a conversation with a friend, or your children, about social media and defamation laws, what would you tell them?

We suggest that you keep it simple, but include the following points…

What is Defamation?

Defamation is when a person, or organization, publishes information about another person, or organization – information that damages the subject’s reputation or business.

There are a few exceptions that can constitute a defence if a person is being sued for defamation. One of these is that the information published is actually true.

The problem with many posts on social media is that truth can be skewed, and is not always black and white. Once comments become embellished, or snowball into gossip that isn’t completely true, it becomes defamatory.

What mediums are subject to Defamation Laws?

The short answer to this is all of them. If information is published in public forum, or even within a group of peers, it is subject to these laws. Whether it is print media, social media, photos or radio, these laws apply.

What about sharing another person’s post on social media?

This is a tricky one, and one that you should definitely chat to your children about. This is where social media and defamation laws get complicated, as we’ve never encountered information sharing on such a large scale before. Nor have we seen it so prevalent amongst the general public – people who have not worked in the relative industries or been exposed to information about these laws.

Theoretically, a person who shares a post or comment that is deemed defamatory can also be liable and found guilty of defamation.

Reality tells us that this isn’t happening, and it would be a nightmare to police. But the laws are there, they are real, and they have the potential to unravel the world of a young person who naively shares a post on their lunch break… if the laws are policed to this extreme.

Every day we see people getting upset, excited and angry online – average people who have been given an outlet that they never were not taught to use effectively or within the law. Most users exercise enough restraint to prevent themselves getting into trouble, and many use social media for the wonderful advantages it offers.

For those who don’t, however, they could be treading on dangerous ground.

Whenever you engage publicly on a social media platform or website, make sure that you are aware of the Terms and Conditions of Use. All digital sites have this available as a link, and it is probably one of the most overlooked areas of any website.

It is also important to remember that defamation laws vary from country to country, and what may be permitted in one country, isn’t necessarily allowed in Australia. With the digital realm being a global space, this is a critical area of consideration for any individual or organization sharing information or opinions about another entity.

If you are unsure of your rights and responsibilities, or have been accused of defamation on a social media platform, it is best to remove your post immediately and seek legal guidance.