Social Media, Defamation and Your Rights

Anyone familiar with Facebook, Twitter and other social media knows that these communication tools can be used to air grudges, disseminate questionable information and hurt feelings. But when do embarrassing claims and potentially damaging statements cross the line, legally, to the level of defamation, slander, libel and illegality?

An international civil case that resolved in March of this year helps illustrate what constitutes defamation conducted via social media.

In 2008, the head of an Australian school’s music department left his position for health reasons. He was replaced by veteran instructor Christine Mickle. For reasons that remain unclear, the retired department leader’s son made numerous tweets suggesting that Mickle bore responsibility for his father’s need to leave the school. Mickle sued for defamation.

The district court judge handling the case concluded, after an investigation, that the defendant had feelings of resentment against the plaintiff, “apparently based on a belief that she had something to do with his father leaving the school” and that there was “absolutely no evidence to substantiate that belief.” The court awarded Mickle $100,000 in damages, stating:

  • The defamatory statements had a “devastating” effect (the plaintiff needed to take sick time to deal with the effects of the defamatory statements and was able to return to work only on a limited basis)
  • The type of communication used (Twitter) had an “evil,” “grapevine effect” that allowed lies to spread easily.

The ease of which defamatory statements can spread via “the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers” may have played a role in the judge’s decision.

What Steps Can You Take in the Face of Defamatory Statements?

Everyone has a right to their opinion, but when businesses and careers are hurt by inaccurate and damaging misstatements and overt untruths, victims often have a right to financial compensation. The attorneys of Manos Alwine, PL have extensive commercial litigation experience in the Miami and all south Florida communities. If you need legal help regarding a possible defamation case involving Facebook, Twitter or any other form of print, verbal or electronic communication, contact us for a consultation by calling 305-341-3100.