Avoid Internet Defamation While Using Social Media

by Steven R. Wagner

Internet defamation is on the rise. We live in a world of instant gratitude, which is fed through technology and especially social media. We record and archive our every move online, tweeting out opinions, sharing images and posting reviews. Sharing our lives online has become so interwoven with our identities that we often do not realize how our actions can impact others and ourselves. Even more problematic is that nearly everyone is searchable; no one is immune to an online presence. Utilize the tips below when posting content online to avoid being accused of internet defamation.

What is internet defamation?
Internet defamation is defined as an unprivileged false statement of fact that tends to harm the reputation of a person or company. In laymen’s terms, this means hurting another person’s reputation by making false, harmful statements against them. Defamation is categorized into two types: libel, which is when such statements are written, and slander, which is when such statements are spoken.

Get Your Facts Straight
The keyword in the definition of defamation is “false”. Leaving a bad review against a business or owner is not considered defamation if the accusations in the review are completely true. It is important to check opinions against facts before going forward with your statement. Consider laying out the facts exactly as they happened and allowing the readers to decipher their own opinions.

For example, if you were unhappy with your latest dining experience, you might leave a review stating that you never received your appetizer and your soup was cold. The reader will determine by your facts that this restaurant may be sub-par without you having to add opinions or defamatory language.

Oftentimes, it is anger that fuels negative statements filled with exaggeration and falsehoods. Taking the time to cool down after an experience or altercation will leave you positioned to keep your writing honest.

Make Jokes and Opinions Clear
Sarcasm can be difficult to pick up in verbal communication, even more so in writing. A joke about a person or business may seem clever and obvious to you, but consider the average reader before posting. Also, note that name-calling can constitute character assassination. If it is not immediately clear that communication regarding a person or business is a joke, it is best to not post or share it.

You can share your opinion if you make it clear that your statements are just that. Preface your statements with phrases that make this obvious to the reader, such as “In my opinion” or “It seems to me.” Using clear language is key. If you are unsure whether your messaging perfectly communicates opinion versus fact, it again is best to not say anything at all.

Do Not Edit Photos or Videos
Videos and photos that have been edited to portray an individual or business negatively can also be characterized as online defamation. What started as a funny joke or clever method of revenge can quickly put you on the wrong side of the law.

Hashtags are an easy way to discover what is trending and promote your online social content. Sometimes, hashtags are used to add additional details or meaning to the end of posts and tweets. Make sure that your hashtags do not alter the meaning of your message so much that it adds falsehood.

For example, if you tweeted out that your friends announced their divorce this weekend, you would not be libel of defamation as long as the statement is true. However, if you assumed infidelity was the culprit and added #cheater to the end of your statement, you could be accused of defamation.

Sharing False Information Counts Too
Linking to or sharing someone else’s online defamation still makes you just as liable as the original author. It is easy to retweet and share online content without giving a second thought, especially if the content is humorous or interesting. However, take a step back before you hit send and ask yourself if the material is completely factual and if the source can be trusted.

Acting ethically and taking a pause before writing or sharing are the best ways to avoid internet defamation. If you are being accused of defamation or are a victim yourself, reach out to one of the attorneys at Wagner, Berkow and Brandt, LLP.

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