Social media – be careful what you post!

30 March 2023

Reputations can be destroyed with a single Tweet or Facebook post. Businesses sometimes look to seek a commercial advantage by attacking a competitor, while employees nowadays are more inclined to vent their frustrations on social media.

It’s important, however, people realise there are laws to protect people and businesses against published content which oversteps the mark.


Most people are familiar with the concept of defamation but may be unaware of the specifics.  It concerns the publication of material that adversely affects either the reputation of an individual or a company. Defamation covers both libel and slander.  In general terms, slander relates to verbal publications and libel relates to written ones.  

In order to be defamatory, a published comment needs to be one that tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right thinking people generally. That can cover a wide variety of items and it needs to be balanced against the particular reputation that has been harmed. For example, how well known is the particular individual or business? What is their reputation? Are they known for conducting themselves with integrity and professionalism, or do they have a reputation for sailing close to the wind? 

Causing harm

A statement will only be defamatory if it also satisfies the additional requirement of causing, or being likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.  Where the claimant is a body that trades for profit, for instance a trading business, the harm in question has to be serious financial loss.  The issue of seriousness is fact-specific.  The more serious the imputation (e.g. the commission of a criminal offence), the more likely it is that it will cause serious reputational harm.  On the commercial side, what may be serious financial harm to a small company may only be modest financial harm to a global company. 


A defamed individual can seek compensation for the harm inflicted upon their reputation.  The greater the harm, the greater the financial award.  A defamed company can seek to recover specific financial losses they have suffered as a result of the defamatory publication.  This presents a risk to anybody who uses social media to post adverse comments on another individual or business.  People need to be very careful not to cross the line.  If in doubt, do not post.  The consequences can be significant.    

Many people believe that there is little that can be done about anonymous posts on the internet or social media, but this is not the case.  I have previously obtained a court order against an online blog host which revealed the IP addresses relating to anonymous blog posts and then a related order against a telcoms company obliging them to reveal the person registered to the particular IP addresses.  When the telecoms company complied, they effectively revealed the identity of the anonymous blogger.


There are defences which can be used against a defamation claim, most importantly truth. Generally speaking, a person can say what they like as long it is substantially true.  A person can also express an honest opinion about something which may nevertheless be defamatory of somebody, provided they set out the basis of their belief and it is reasonable.    

Legal claims relating to reputation are notoriously costly to pursue and defend. Litigation is always challenging but claims involving reputations can really take their toll on the individuals involved.  Early advice is vital.  Timely, strategic action can bring about an early and satisfactory outcome.  Rather than face the costs of having to defend a claim for defamation, a defendant may be persuaded to publicly apologise, remove the offending material from a website or social media, and pay compensation.  The action that a victim takes in the immediate aftermath of suffering reputational harm is very important and will invariably influence the outcome.  

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