Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide platforms for users to engage in public, interactive conversations. But if an online comment is hurtful and false, it could set the stage for a defamation lawsuit.
There are two types of defamation: Libelous comments are in writing, while slanderous statements are spoken. In the age of status updates, podcasts, and YouTube, both types can potentially apply in social-media defamation cases.
Defamation suits generally require the victim to prove certain elements. Here are three tips if you're considering an online defamation lawsuit:
1. Keep records of the hurtful comments.
Defamation requires that a hurtful statement be made and "published" to at least one other person. Online comments can suffice -- but because such comments can be easily deleted, a victim may want to act quickly to preserve the comment as proof.
There are different ways to do this, and an experienced attorney can suggest the best course of action for your particular case. Suggestions may include:
- Printing a hard copy of the defamatory statement, including the web address and the time and date;
- Taking an electronic "snapshot" of your entire computer screen, using the "print screen" key or another keyboard shortcut; or
- Grabbing a camera to take a photo of what your screen and the defamatory comment look like.
2. Have proof that the hurtful comment is false.
Whatever the defamatory comment says, it must be false for it to be considered defamation. For example, if someone defames you by calling you a tax cheat, you can prove the comment is false by digging up your tax records.
If you're a public figure, you'll also have to prove actual malice -- that the statement was made with an intentional disregard for the truth. Again, an experienced lawyer will be able to help figure out the best way to prove this.
3. Resist the urge to post a scathing reply.
The old adage that "revenge is a dish best served cold" applies to online defamation as well. Though a defamatory comment may be fully deserving of an immediate, scathing reply, it may be best to leave it alone. Posting an angry response could make matters worse -- and could set you up for a potential defamation lawsuit as well.