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A lot of people use social media without realising that they can be held to account and fined for what they post and that in extreme cases they could find themselves in court accused of online defamation.  This is something we explore in our latest civil litigation blog.

   

There are thought to be 45 million active social media users in the UK, which equates to around 66% of the entire UK population. According to latest research nearly half of these tweeters, facebookers and Instagram addicts are blissfully unaware that they are legally responsible for what they do and say online.

   

As the popularity of social media has grown, there has been a significant jump in the number of legal claims for defamation or libel being made as a result. There have now been a number of cases where individuals have been found guilty and ordered to pay hefty sums of money.

   

When You Might Face a Claim

 

For legal action to be taken against you for something you have posted online, generally you must have written or shared something that is untrue and has caused the person serious reputational harm. If you have said something about a business on social media, then the business must prove that they have suffered serious financial loss as a result.

   

The person, family or business that are accusing you do not have to have been named directly as long as they can be easily identified from the post.

   

How To Protect Yourself

 

It can be tempting to jump onto social media if you are unhappy with the way you have been treated by someone or a business that you have engaged with, but try not to act in haste and think carefully before you post anything.

   

Avoid using social media when you have been drinking alcohol as your judgment can become clouded. Even if posts are removed, they can still cause damage and of course, be screen-shot as evidence before you have reassessed your post and removed it. Anything you post on the internet is never truly deleted.  Furthermore, others may repost your original message and it is easy to quickly lose control of the text or pictures.

   

Consider other ways you can approach the situation away from public social media posts.

   

If you have an issue with a business you have used or treatment received then look on their website for their complaints procedure, write them a letter or an email, call their customer services department, ask to speak to a manager or investigate how to issue a formal complaint with the financial ombudsman or trading standards.  Of course social media can be a quick way to get a reply but if you do decide to go down this route make sure any statement made can be backed up with evidence.

   

If you are going through problems with family members, neighbors, partners etc. then consider how best to respond. A heat of the moment post or indirect dig on social media is unlikely to mend the relationship or help constructively. Take time to calm down, write down your thoughts on paper and try to keep the matter private. There are options of having mediation with other individuals with the help of an independent, neutral party to help you find resolution.

   

If you are not sure where to start, then seek legal advice. Lamb Brooks offer fixed fee appointments for either 30 minutes or 1hour where you can use this time to get tailored legal advice to plan your next steps.

   

Legal advice on negative comments on social media

Tips For Being Cautious Online

 

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great for staying connected with friends and family and for keeping up to date with news and trends. But there are some points worth noting before you act quickly on social media.

   
  • Keep privacy settings high – a closed profile poses less risk.
  • Be careful who your friends are and only accept friend requests from people you know.
  • Be mindful when sharing posts. You may come across a photo, video, news article that you decide to share with others but consider how this will be perceived as your personal opinion.
  • Be mindful of current or future employers. Companies will often look at social profiles before interviewing or hiring. Are you happy with the posts you have publicly available to view?
  • Something that you post online will never truly disappear. Even if you doubt your choice and remove the post it will still exist on the internet somewhere and can be screen-grabbed by others as evidence before you delete it from your timeline.
  • Be careful of listing where you work on your social media unless you are very conservative about what you post.
  • Keep your password safe. Having someone post on your behalf or hack into your account could be dangerous.
  • Do not post on social media when you are angry, sad or have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Stop, think, and re-read. Before you hit ‘post’ or ‘share’ take another look at your post and ask yourself if you would be happy for this to be associated with your name? Are you going to cause offence to anyone with this post? And is it honest?
 

How To Limit The Damage

 

If it is too late and you have already fired the final shot with a social media post that you are being threatened with legal action for then there are some things you can do to hopefully change their mind about taking the issue further.

   
  • Remove the offending post
  • Amend the offending post to clarify any misunderstood comments
  • Issue an apology – in writing so that you have a record of it
 

Getting Legal Advice

 

A lawyer who specialises in civil disputes will be able to guide you on the best approach to take depending on your exact circumstances.

   

It is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible if you have been threatened with a claim to avoid making matters worse and giving yourself plenty of time to act.

   

There are several ways you may be able to defend your social media posts such as your post having factual accuracy, your post being an honest opinion or expression or where action hasn’t been taken within a 12 month timescale.

   

Our experts can help you determine the best approach to take when formulating your reply and guide you on where you stand. They can also explore alternative ways to resolve any ongoing disputes you have to ensure that you are less likely to be faced with the same situation in the future.

   

For more information or legal support with defamation, please contact our Dispute Resolution team at Lamb Brooks on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant at any time of day.

   

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

How To Resolve Disputes Amicably

A Day in the Life of a Litigation Solicitor

How to Start Writing a Will: 8 Simple Steps

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.