Defaming in Social Media is popular these days – Consequences come in varying forms

Justice Frank Seepersad

The article published last week, “High Court judge rules on Facebook posting” which showed one Facebook poster, ordered to pay to her victims, damages and costs, we had prefaced it by saying, “There are many fronts of interest for very diverse sections of our community, that this article should receive special attention.”

There has been some ‘feedback’ where some concerned persons expressed support for the view that many here in Montserrat and elsewhere have been getting away with similar acts. They wanted to know more about the matter.

Nearly all the mediums, print and online, carried the story. In another article, the judge was quoted saying: “There is nothing wrong with expressing your views, by all means, go ahead [but] do not defame the reputation of someone else. Do not drag their name through the mud. Be careful what you post, they have consequences.”

Following Justice Frank Seepersad conviction, saying, Your social media posts can have consequences in court, in a programe called, The Morning Brew today, the suing couple’s attorney issued a caution to others using the kind word, ‘share’ in Facebook. “A word of caution is also extended to those who knowingly republish or “share” posts containing defamatory content. There must be some measure of restraint, if only to reconsider the accuracy or plausibility of truth in a post before its dissemination which is especially true of sensational and outrageous posts which can possibly cause irreparable harm,” they said.

This should be given very serious thought. You see, you can’t change the printed word. You may get away with the attempt of trying to change the spoken word.

In that article it offered a brief on “What is defamation?” 

The Libel and Defamation Act was first established in January 1846.

There are two parts of defamation namely libel (things in a permanent form that are written e.g newspapers, books, paintings, drawings) or slander (things that are said).

Defamation is usually an allegation or accusation that harms the reputation or honour of the subject of the communication, generally by identifying a character trait or course of action that exposes the subject to hatred, contempt or ridicule.

A Magistrate or High Court Judge can therefore award damages if the defendant is found guilty of defamation of character.

It is on Facebook and probably through other social media that Montserrat suffered and is suffering from certain ‘potentially’ defamatory publishing which undoubtedly among more serious problems, caused the presence of a new governor in Montserrat. As a result there may be all types of litigation that might take place, however long that will be.

Legislation regarding defamation (the Libel and Defamation Act) was established long before the era of the internet. As such, this ruling will now govern the use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other communication applications including WhatsApp and Viber.

Some folks may feel secure and private, but note, as the judge indicated: “…while a person’s social media account is private, the posts occupy a public space and the content will be subject to public opinion and scrutiny.

Another writer Derek Achong noted the advice to exercise extreme caution when making posts, as citizens who fall victim to reckless and malicious statements now have an avenue of recourse.

The observations noted that social media users would be held to the same standards as traditional media practitioners. Just as the judge put it: “Social media ought not to be viewed as an unregulated media forum and anyone who elects to express views or opinions on such a forum stands in the shoes of a journalist and must be subjected to the standards of responsible journalism which govern traditional media,” he said.

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Justice Frank Seepersad

The article published last week, “High Court judge rules on Facebook posting” which showed one Facebook poster, ordered to pay to her victims, damages and costs, we had prefaced it by saying, “There are many fronts of interest for very diverse sections of our community, that this article should receive special attention.”

There has been some ‘feedback’ where some concerned persons expressed support for the view that many here in Montserrat and elsewhere have been getting away with similar acts. They wanted to know more about the matter.

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Nearly all the mediums, print and online, carried the story. In another article, the judge was quoted saying: “There is nothing wrong with expressing your views, by all means, go ahead [but] do not defame the reputation of someone else. Do not drag their name through the mud. Be careful what you post, they have consequences.”

Following Justice Frank Seepersad conviction, saying, Your social media posts can have consequences in court, in a programe called, The Morning Brew today, the suing couple’s attorney issued a caution to others using the kind word, ‘share’ in Facebook. “A word of caution is also extended to those who knowingly republish or “share” posts containing defamatory content. There must be some measure of restraint, if only to reconsider the accuracy or plausibility of truth in a post before its dissemination which is especially true of sensational and outrageous posts which can possibly cause irreparable harm,” they said.

This should be given very serious thought. You see, you can’t change the printed word. You may get away with the attempt of trying to change the spoken word.

In that article it offered a brief on “What is defamation?” 

The Libel and Defamation Act was first established in January 1846.

There are two parts of defamation namely libel (things in a permanent form that are written e.g newspapers, books, paintings, drawings) or slander (things that are said).

Defamation is usually an allegation or accusation that harms the reputation or honour of the subject of the communication, generally by identifying a character trait or course of action that exposes the subject to hatred, contempt or ridicule.

A Magistrate or High Court Judge can therefore award damages if the defendant is found guilty of defamation of character.

It is on Facebook and probably through other social media that Montserrat suffered and is suffering from certain ‘potentially’ defamatory publishing which undoubtedly among more serious problems, caused the presence of a new governor in Montserrat. As a result there may be all types of litigation that might take place, however long that will be.

Legislation regarding defamation (the Libel and Defamation Act) was established long before the era of the internet. As such, this ruling will now govern the use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other communication applications including WhatsApp and Viber.

Some folks may feel secure and private, but note, as the judge indicated: “…while a person’s social media account is private, the posts occupy a public space and the content will be subject to public opinion and scrutiny.

Another writer Derek Achong noted the advice to exercise extreme caution when making posts, as citizens who fall victim to reckless and malicious statements now have an avenue of recourse.

The observations noted that social media users would be held to the same standards as traditional media practitioners. Just as the judge put it: “Social media ought not to be viewed as an unregulated media forum and anyone who elects to express views or opinions on such a forum stands in the shoes of a journalist and must be subjected to the standards of responsible journalism which govern traditional media,” he said.