When And Why Can Businesses Sue For Defamation On Social Media?

Social media can be a great engagement tool for businesses, but it can equally be a reputation destroyer. In this article, we’ll take you through the laws on defamation, including the times that you may have grounds for legal action…

The innovation of the internet and social media means that it’s now easier for businesses to engage with their customers and increase their visibility. As great as that is, cases of defamation on social media have skyrocketed in recent years due to internet trolling and slander. In this article, we’ll explain what defamation is and, when you may have grounds to take legal action if you feel that your business has been defamed. 

What is Defamation on Social Media?

Defamation is the act of posting or publishing negative statements about a business or individual which are false or untrue. And, in doing so, can cause the business or entity serious reputational harm. 4.70 billion people worldwide use social media on a regular basis – an innovation which allows us to share information with a huge number of people in seconds. This can mean that it’s possible for somebody, for example, a disgruntled customer, to post damaging content about a business with very little thought or consideration. 

Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with airing your views regarding a company if you have evidence to show that what you’re saying is accurate. However, if you deliberately or accidentally make false statements about a business, then you could be in trouble. 

In the UK, making defamatory statements about a business is considered a criminal offence and you could be sued for the damage you have caused.

Do I have Grounds for a Business Defamation Claim?

The laws regarding defamation can be complex and long-winded and therefore, your first port of call should be to contact a solicitor. Seeking legal advice can help determine whether there are legal grounds for a defamation claim and if, you can even resolve this matter outside of court. Below are some of the following steps you can take before pursuing a court claim, which can be timely and costly.

  • Response: Respond to the statement on the same social media platform, stating the facts – backed up with evidence. This can help as anybody who saw the original comment will then be able to see your response.
  • Removal: Request that the statement is removed from the platform and contact the administrators of the platform itself to alert them of the issue.
  • Letter of intended action: If the poster refuses to remove their comment, you can issue a letter stating your intention to take legal action should they continue to refuse.

In an ideal world, one or all of these actions will be enough to resolve the problem, however, if this is not the case, you may wish to consider legal action. 

The Grounds for Legal Action

In the UK, you have one year to take legal action after a defamation post on social media. In order to have grounds to make a claim, you need to be able to provide evidence that the statement has caused harm to your business. This can include: 

  • Evidence of reputational damage: For example, comments from people who stated that they would not use your business having seen the defamatory statement.
  • Financial hardship: Evidence of loss of custom following the defamatory statement.
  • Evidence of falsity: Proof that the comment or statement is not based on the truth.

Essentially, you need to be able to satisfy a court of law that a false statement was made and that the statement subsequently caused harm to your business. In these circumstances, you may be able to take legal action in order to gain financial compensation. Or you can seek an injunction, to prevent the person from republishing the false and damaging statement on social media. 

You Will Not Have Grounds for Action If: 

  • The statement made was true
  • It is clear the statement was the poster’s opinion
  • The statement was made in the public interest

One of the most difficult things to prove in a defamation case is that the person made the statement with malice. For instance, if they did so with the intention of causing harm to your business. Or, with the knowledge that their statement might reasonably cause harm. 

If you are unable to show evidence of this, it’s unlikely that you will be successful – however, a good solicitor will be able to advise you on this.

Fighting Back Against Defamation

When people post on social media, they often do so with a sense that the internet provides protection against real life consequences. However, this is often very much not the case. 

Business defamation on social media can quickly undo all the hard work that has been put into your company and can even result in the loss of your business.

If you feel that your business has been a victim of defamation, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible. You should also hire the services of a reputable solicitor, who will be able to help you put a case together for you and seek the compensation you deserve.

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