Internet and Social Media Defamation Law
Social media, emails and phone apps are now the default method of communication for most people. It is therefore not surprising that a number ofserious unlawful acts can be committed over the internet, including defamation, breach of privacy and harassment.
The power and reach of social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, can lead to an individual’s reputation being badly damaged at the click of a button. Often malicious comments can stay online permanently. Internet giants, such as Google, bring these posts up when an individual’s name is searched. As well as being a search engine, Google provides the framework for blogs which can also be defamatory.
Online publication liability: defamation, malicious falsehood and harassment
Defamatory statements published online are treated in the same way as defamatory statements published in a newspaper. However, following the enactment of the Defamation Act 2013, operators of websites are afforded additional protections in circumstances where they are not responsible for the publication of the statements complained of and they have acted in accordance with their regulatory requirements.
Like in all defamation claims, there needs to have been a defamatory publication which makes reference to the Claimant and which has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the Claimant’s reputation. The Court will take into account the context of publication when it determines the meaning of online statements as well as the nature of the audience.
For more information on how our internet defamation attorneys and libel lawyers can assist you, please visit our contact page.
Unlike with a defamation claim, the Claimant cannot rely on the presumption of falsity and has the added burden of proving that the Defendant published the statements maliciously. It is also necessary to show that the Claimant has suffered financial loss or that the statements were published with the intention of causing such damage.However, there is no necessity to prove serious harm to reputation as is required in a defamation action.
Increasingly the internet is being used as a means to perpetrate harassment. Trolling is of particular concern. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 prohibits a course of conduct which a person knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another. The latter part of this test is determined by asking whether a reasonable person in possession of the information he has, would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment. The Act defines course of conduct as being on at least two occasions and states that harassing a person includes causing alarm and/or distress. Importantly, ‘conduct’ includes speech and so the publication of private information can constitute harassment.
Publication on a website of more than one occasion,of words of a harassing nature in the knowledge that such publication will come to the attention of the subject has been held to constitute harassment. Dissemination of photographs online has also been held to amount to harassment.
Taylor Hampton have been involved in a number of high-profile harassment actions in obtaining redress for victims.
Misuse of private information and data protection
The tort of misuse of private information has developed rapidly over the last few years. Taylor Hampton have been instrumental in the evolution of privacy law and have acted in cases which have resulted in historic awards of damages.
The firm was responsible for a number of cases in the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World and the establishment of the Leveson inquiry.
A Claimant needs to show that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information which has been or is going to be accessed/disclosed. This is a broad question in which the Court will take account of all the circumstances of the case including the attributes of the claimant, the nature of the activity in which the claimant was engaged, the place at which it was happening, the nature and purpose of the intrusion, the absence of consent and whether it was known or could be inferred, the effect on the claimant of publication.
Second, the Court will need to conduct a balancing exercise between any competing rights engaged. This involves weighing up the arguments for restricting/interfering with the competing rights. The most common competing right relied upon by defendants is Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights – the right to freedom of expression.
Integral to a person’s right to privacy are the principles of human dignity and autonomy. There is no definition of ‘private’ but the concept is being continually developed by the courts and covers a wide spectrum of private life. Case law has established that the following categories of information are capable of being held as private:
- Family relationships;
- Sexual relationships;
- Medical information;
- Personal financial information;
- Professional and business activities;
- Legal advice;
- Photographs of children in a public place; and
- Personal information such as home address and age.
If publication is threatened, we may be able to obtain an interim injunction restraining publication pending further order. Alternatively, we may seek to reach agreement with the publisher without the need of a Court order. Once publication has taken place, it is difficult to reverse any damage that has been caused – for this reason, it is important that you act quickly. Please contact Taylor Hampton to find out how our privacy lawyers can help you.
Dealing with Unknown Publishers
If publication is threatened, it is possible to obtain relief against ‘unknown persons’. If you do not know the identity of the person responsible for the publication, for example if the information features on an anonymous blog, we can help you apply for a pre-action disclosure order against a third party who does know the identity of the wrongdoer.
All of these matters can be dealt with by our expert internet lawyers.
Right to rectification and right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten)
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing make searching for content on the interest quick and easy. However these platforms also enable and sometimes promote access to sites that otherwise would be difficult to find, such as amateur, unregulated blogs. If such sites were delisted from these search engines’ results, they would in all likelihood attract much reduced traffic.
The right to rectification and the right of erasure are of particular importance in the context of controlling an individual’s personal information that is available online. Personal data must be accurate and kept up to date – if a Data Controller such as Google or an online publisher is in breach of its obligations in this respect, we may be able to make a request on your behalf that the information be corrected or entirely removed, without undue delay.
Our solicitors are experts at handling these matters and can quickly and effectively deal with perpetrators and get comments removed, even if they are anonymous. If you are unsure about what can be done,
Our internet lawyers have dealt with numerous cases of internet abuse, using various methods to get material taken down from online sites and to tackle the perpetrators. In many cases we can force apologies and damages.
Our internet solicitors can advise on a wide range of online issues and services, including removing defamatory reviews and comments about businesses, suing in respect of emails and online posts which attack individuals, acting in relation to privacy violations and data infringements and assisting with the right to be forgotten.
Do you need to speak with an experienced defamation of character attorney? If you require an experienced online libel solicitor, please contact Taylor Hampton to find out how we can help you.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is for information purposes only. The article is not advice and should not be treated as such. The legal points made in this article are for general application only and should not be taken as specific advice for individual use.