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Monday, November 18, 2019

Defamatory Social Media Posts ~ You Can Be Sued for Personally Bashing Someone Online

When individuals feel that their reputation is damaged because of a reckless comment made on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media channels, they may consider pursuing a defamation lawsuit against the insulting party. Through a libel lawsuit, they may be able to recover compensation for the damages that they have sustained.

Online Defamation

Social media grew exponentially during the 21st century with the advent of various social media channels. Additionally, online commentary sites such as Yelp and review sites have enabled individuals to leave reviews that allow thousands of individuals to read their comments. Many social media sites exist on the idea that users must be allowed to share information. Often, this sharing occurs without any thought to the truth of information or without regulatory oversight. Additionally, anonymous profiles and sites have allowed individuals to post what they really think instantaneously. Some users assume a completely different personality than they show in the real world. Online commentators may be rewarded with attention and public support when they blast other individuals. Most sites may check for pornographic or inappropriate content, but many do not screen for potentially defamatory content.

Potential Defendants

While some victims may hope to pursue Internet service providers or the hosts of websites in the hope of going after deep pockets, a federal law called the Communications Decency Act prohibits suing these entities for defamation. Instead, wronged individuals should pursue a claim against the individual or entity that made the derogatory statement. This is usually accomplished by filing a complaint in the appropriate state court.

Elements of Defamation

While each state’s laws can vary, the basic elements of a defamation suit are explained below. Generally, defamation is a false statement that is published and injurious to the victim’s reputation.

False Statement

A victim must be able to establish that the statement was false. The truth is a complete defense to a defamation lawsuit. For defamation lawsuits, the burden of proof is on the suing party.


The alleged defamatory statement must be presented as a fact and not as an opinion. However, an opinion can be considered a fact statement if a reasonable person would have interpreted it as such.


"Published" can literally mean in print, such as in a newspaper or on a website. It can also mean "said in front of others". This element is satisfied if the statement has been communicated to a third party. Proving that a statement was published is not usually difficult for a case involving social media, providing that the plaintiff can show that the content was on the web-page by printing it out. Likewise, the content is considered published whether three people read it on an obscure website or 300,000 people read it on a popular social media page.


In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a defamation lawsuit, he or she must be able to show that the defamatory statement damaged him or her in some way. This may be expressed as demonstrating that the damage was significant, quantifiable and documented. This is usually accomplished by showing that the victim’s reputation has been damaged. If the person who was insulted online was running a business, damages may be shown by the loss of business or profit. Some statements are so inherently injurious that a victim may not need to show actual damages, such as statements accusing the individual of committing a crime, of being incompetent in his or her profession, of certain sexual conduct, or of having an infectious disease. A common test to determine whether a person’s reputation has been damaged is if the comment would cause the individual’s peers to think less of him or her.

Examples of Social Media Defamation

Not every untrue or unkind statement is actionable. However, many statements are. For example, if you accused a person on social media of abusing his or her spouse or children, such a statement would likely be considered defamatory if it were not true. Even if an individual posts information that is partially true and partially false, he or she can be found liable for defamation. For example, a person may claim that an individual was fired for harassment. The individual may have been fired but not for harassment. The court may find defamation still existed despite some truth to the statement.

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