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Defamation & social media

Defamation & social media

Questions about defamation (libel) are arising more and more because of offensive postings – by pictures and/or words – on social media and websites. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution protects free speech, but not obscene, defamation, or fighting words.

Defamatory words put into question a person’s: reputation, profession trade, business, or charges him or her with an indictable offense (felony) or tends to make her or him a subject of public contempt or ridicule. The defamed person would have to show that he or she suffered some monetary damage as the result of the words. If, however, the facts are true or pure opinion (no suggestion that there are facts behind the words), there may be defamation BUT not the basis for a lawsuit.

One must almost always look to state law to see whether there is support in the law for a defamation lawsuit. But a federal statute – the Communications Decency Act – protects websites and social media organizations, like Facebook, from state law suits where the website or social media organization only served as a conduit or medium for another person or entity’s defamatory post (one could still sue the posting person or entity).

At the end of the day, like with any lawsuit, one would have to decide whether a lawsuit is worth the time, effort and money, and most important, whether a money judgment could be collected. If a defendant has no money or is judgment proof, a judgment would be a moral victory and nothing more.

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