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Defamation Online

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Defamation Online

Brien Roche

Defamation online has been a hot topic for years. 

The social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. are immune from defamation claims based upon what their users may publish.

Defamation Online-The Basics

The basis of a defamation claim is a statement that is provably false which hurts another, causing some damage.

To be provably false means that it must be not factual.  Statements can fall into two broad categories.  They may be statements of opinion.  They may be statements of fact.  Statements of opinion typically are not defamatory.  A statement of fact may be defamatory if it is false.  For instance calling a doctor a butcher is something that is provably false.  Of course in some cases it may be true.  If it is true, it’s not defamatory.  In most cases it’s false because most doctors are not butchers.  That is, we all know what a butcher is.  A butcher is simply someone that hacks away at meat, although some times in an artful fashion.  Doctors are not supposed to be butchers.  They are not paid to be butchers.  To call a doctor a butcher could be defamatory.

Defamation Per Se

Certain statements may be defamatory per se if they fall into certain categories.  For instance the above statement demeans a doctor in his profession and as such is defamatory per se.  There are several other such categories of defamatory per se statements.  If a statement is defamatory per se, then there is no need to prove special damage.  Special damage would be such things as incurring medical expenses or losing income because of the defamatory statement.  These statements are deemed to cause damage on their face.  Other types of statements that are not defamatory per se may still be defamatory but you would need to prove some special damage.

The law on defamation can vary from state to state.  In general someone can be liable if they “publish” a defamatory statement.  For instance if The New York Times publishes a statement that you made then The New York Times could be liable for that under certain circumstances.  The rule in that regard gets into some significant First Amendment issues.  In general for the media to be liable where the subject is a public official/figure, you would have to prove that there is some actual malice on their part.

New Executive Order

However with the internet there are some special rules.  Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act says that companies such as Facebook, etc. cannot be considered the publisher of posts that third parties put on their site.  That is, they can’t be held liable because they’re not the one publishing the statement.  

President Trump has proposed some changes to that law in terms of the way that it is enforced.  He has on May 28, 2020 issued an executive order that could pave the way for the FCC to punish tech companies for how they moderate content on their platforms.  That is, if they’re monitoring appears to be politically biased, then the FCC could take some action against them.  The tech companies maintain they’re not politically biased.  Most of the tech companies steer clear of monitoring any content unless it violates some basic rules of decency and public safety.  Some people have maintained that the tech companies should be more aggressive in terms of how they monitor speech.  Other people have maintained that tech companies need to be reined in by allowing them to be sued in instances where they try to monitor conservative causes.  

Most of the tech companies no doubt try to steer away from political issues.  Most of them are focused on more basic questions of public safety.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. Also for more info on defamation online see the Wikipedia pages. Also see the post on this site dealing with injury issues.

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Defamation Online

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Defamation Online

Brien Roche

Defamation online has been a hot topic for years. 

The social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. are immune from defamation claims based upon what their users may publish.

Defamation Online-The Basics

The basis of a defamation claim is a statement that is provably false which hurts another, causing some damage.

To be provably false means that it must be not factual.  Statements can fall into two broad categories.  They may be statements of opinion.  They may be statements of fact.  Statements of opinion typically are not defamatory.  A statement of fact may be defamatory if it is false.  For instance calling a doctor a butcher is something that is provably false.  Of course in some cases it may be true.  If it is true, it’s not defamatory.  In most cases it’s false because most doctors are not butchers.  That is, we all know what a butcher is.  A butcher is simply someone that hacks away at meat, although some times in an artful fashion.  Doctors are not supposed to be butchers.  They are not paid to be butchers.  To call a doctor a butcher could be defamatory.

Defamation Per Se

Certain statements may be defamatory per se if they fall into certain categories.  For instance the above statement demeans a doctor in his profession and as such is defamatory per se.  There are several other such categories of defamatory per se statements.  If a statement is defamatory per se, then there is no need to prove special damage.  Special damage would be such things as incurring medical expenses or losing income because of the defamatory statement.  These statements are deemed to cause damage on their face.  Other types of statements that are not defamatory per se may still be defamatory but you would need to prove some special damage.

The law on defamation can vary from state to state.  In general someone can be liable if they “publish” a defamatory statement.  For instance if The New York Times publishes a statement that you made then The New York Times could be liable for that under certain circumstances.  The rule in that regard gets into some significant First Amendment issues.  In general for the media to be liable where the subject is a public official/figure, you would have to prove that there is some actual malice on their part.

New Executive Order

However with the internet there are some special rules.  Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act says that companies such as Facebook, etc. cannot be considered the publisher of posts that third parties put on their site.  That is, they can’t be held liable because they’re not the one publishing the statement.  

President Trump has proposed some changes to that law in terms of the way that it is enforced.  He has on May 28, 2020 issued an executive order that could pave the way for the FCC to punish tech companies for how they moderate content on their platforms.  That is, if they’re monitoring appears to be politically biased, then the FCC could take some action against them.  The tech companies maintain they’re not politically biased.  Most of the tech companies steer clear of monitoring any content unless it violates some basic rules of decency and public safety.  Some people have maintained that the tech companies should be more aggressive in terms of how they monitor speech.  Other people have maintained that tech companies need to be reined in by allowing them to be sued in instances where they try to monitor conservative causes.  

Most of the tech companies no doubt try to steer away from political issues.  Most of them are focused on more basic questions of public safety.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. Also for more info on defamation online see the Wikipedia pages. Also see the post on this site dealing with injury issues.
Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Contact Us For A Free Consultation