• Pamela Sweetapple

If you don't have anything nice to say on Facebook...

Angry with someone on Facebook? Maybe you’ll just tell them what you really think of them. Stop and think again.

Many people think that they can write what they like on Facebook with impunity, but that is not the case. Unless you want to find a letter from a lawyer in your mailbox, you must avoid saying or writing anything in public that might damage someone’s reputation, and cause others to think less of them.

That said, people are only entitled to the reputation they deserve, not the reputation they want. So, if you really want to tell your 673 friends on Facebook that Aunt Jenny is a stingy so-and-so, and you should have seen the terrible present she brought to the baby shower, you can do so but only in certain circumstances.

These circumstances are what lawyers call defences to defamation. They are that your published comments were substantially true, or one of more of the imputations that you published are substantially true and their publication does not do further harm to someone’s reputation. Additionally, you could also argue that your published views were your honest opinion, but that argument will only work if your opinion is based on proper material. You can’t tell people that Aunt Jenny bought her present from a second-hand shop unless you have actually seen the receipt.

What about my right to free speech, you ask? The answer is that there is no right to completely free speech. The law requires people to consider many things before they speak publicly. One of the things people must consider is the harm they might do to someone’s reputation with the things they say.

As Facebook flourishes and people feel free to express their many and varied opinions, it is very important to keep in mind that people’s reputations are precious to them and you are not entitled to defame anyone without a reasonable excuse. To do so can be very expensive if the person you have defamed decides to defend their reputation publicly.

At Cooroy Legal Centre, we are happy to advise people about ways of protecting their reputations, and also about defending their right to speak freely in many different circumstances.

For more information, please call Pamela at Cooroy Legal Centre on 544 77637.

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