We can be quick to get our hackles up when we believe we’ve been slighted by someone else. It’s easy to want to vent that frustration by sharing it with others on a Facebook community page or in a Twitter post.
The Helensville Citizens Advice Bureau says it’s had a number of inquiries in recent weeks over potentially defamatory comments made on online community forums. Some of those cases are now proceeding through the courts, which will be costly, not just financially but also in terms of time, energy and stress on both sides. To avoid getting yourself in such a position, here is a brief guide to online defamation:
Someone has said something unflattering about me online what can I do about it?
Firstly, contact the person and request the statement be removed. If they won’t, then contact NetSafe on 0508 NETSAFE or netsafe.org.nz/report. They may be able to help liaise with the site host to the have the material removed. You might also seek legal advice.
Can I sue someone for spreading lies about me?
Yes, but you will need to prove that:
• you are the person the statements are about (even if you’re not named outright, if people who know you would know that you’re the person being talked about, that is enough)
• the statements are untrue and have damaged your reputation
• the statements were published (either online, or via email or in a printed publication).
Unless you’re a business, you don’t have to prove you’ve suffered any actual loss, but if you win the court case you could receive damages.
I’m being accused of defamation. What is my defence?
You can make a defence if the statement:
• is true
• and is your honest opinion.
But, it’s important to realise that it’s not up to the person suing you to prove the statements are untrue, rather it’s up to you to prove their truthfulness.
For instance, if you accuse someone of dodging their taxes, they wouldn’t have to prove that they have always paid tax, it would be up to you to prove that they haven’t.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to be the person who made the original post to be accused of defamation.
In a recent landmark case in Switzerland, a Facebook user who ‘liked’ a post accusing another man of anti-Semitism and racism was convicted of defamation because the judge ruled that by liking the posts, he supported their content.
Website hosting sites (ISPs) may also be accused of defamation if they don’t take down the offending statement. For instance, if someone else posts comments on your Facebook page, you could be liable.
So, carefully consider the costs before making that Facebook post in the heat of the moment. Ask yourself are there better ways of dealing with this grievance?
For more information contact the Helensville CAB, 09 420 7162 or NetSafe.