Businesses are commonly the target of defamatory remarks made on social media — and so are law firms. Legal entities are also guilty of making comments that can land them in legal hot water. Here’s everything you need to know about who and how to sue, and how to avoid making defamatory remarks of your own on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These platforms have all taken a stronger stance against online bullying in recent months (something to keep in mind as you read).
What is defamation? Generally, an individual or organization can sue when another individual or organization has made untrue financially damaging statements about them — as long as they can prove those statements are actually false. The burden of proof is always on the plaintiff. If “defamatory” remarks are actually statements of fact, then a lawsuit will not work.
Opinionated remarks are protected by law. Simply positing that a particular person or character seems insidious — in your opinion — is not legal. Keep in mind that weighted opinions might be considered factual by legal entities when the subject matter is controversial or illegal. For example, the statement “in my opinion, Mr. Johnson is a pedophile and keeps child pornography on his personal computer” will not be a protected opinion. Should it be untrue, defamation litigation is possible.
Altering photos or videos to defame a person or individual is illegal and defamatory. For example, when right-wing fringe “news” outlets use videos that have been altered using deep-fake technology to make President Biden seem drunk or like he made false statements, both the creator of the video and the news outlet could be sued for defamation. This is true in reverse, too. Left-wing fringe “news” outlets are guilty of the same thing.
Who can you sue for defamation? You can sue not only the person who defamed you, but also the person or entity that shared the defamatory remarks if they know them to be untrue. You can even sue the social media provider for not reigning in content they know to be untrue.