Business defamation on Facebook has existed since Facebook began, but as more people turn to social media channels to share their opinions on, well, everything, Facebook business defamation is on the rise. Today we want to talk about a few key points that you should be aware of if your business becomes the target of this type of libel.
Business Defamation on Facebook: What You Need to Know
As a business owner, you have enough on your plate and of the many hats that you wear, that of a lawyer is not one. That said, however, it is important that you familiarize yourself with current libel laws if your business becomes the target of Facebook defamation. Today we’re not going to load you down with legal speak, but we are going to cover a few important points that you should know.
Location is Important
When we say that location plays an important part when it comes to your business being defamed online, we are talking about the state where you live AND the state where the accused lives. To date, in a vast majority of cases, the law has determined that in order to be able to sue an out-of-state individual for online defamation in another state, the defamatory statement must have been made with the intent of purposefully targeting readers of the state where the business being defamed is located.
Let’s look at an example…
Joe owns an auto shop in Wisconsin.
Kathy visited Joe’s auto shop when she was visiting from out of town. Kathy was unhappy with the service at the shop and when she returned to her home state of New York, she took to Facebook and other online forums and posted defamatory comments about Joe’s auto shop.
Joe’s business began to suffer because of the comments that Kathy posted and he decided to pursue a defamation suit against her.
In this case, the courts would likely determine that because the comments that Kathy posted were not directly and purposefully targeting Wisconsin readers and instead they were made to the world in general, that Joe could not successfully sue her for damages.
Retractions Can Influence the Course of Events
Although most current state retraction laws don’t explicitly reference online publications, there are cases in various states that have set out to establish the right to retraction notice for internet publishers too. Florida is one of those states that is making progress in this arena and you can find details of one such case here.
Essentially, the way that the law is currently written and from successful cases in Florida courts if an individual posts a derogatory comment about your business on Facebook, as a publisher of that comment, they are entitled to a retraction notice prior to being sued for defamation. The retraction must be made in accordance with state law. If the retraction is not done in accordance with the law or if the person who posted the defamatory comment refuses to post a retraction, you should consult a reputable defamation attorney about pursuing a case of defamation.
The Communications Decency Act
When someone posts a defamatory comment about your business on Facebook, it can be tempting to go after Facebook for allowing the comment to be posted. Usually, this temptation comes from the fact that a site like Facebook has much deeper pockets than the individual who posted the defamatory comment in the first place. The Communications Decency Act, however, protects website hosts and ISP’s from liability for a publication made by another party. This means that if an individual makes a defamatory post about your business using the Facebook platform, you cannot pursue Facebook in an attempt to increase your possible gains. Why not? Because under the Communications Decency Act, Facebook is considered to be a platform sharing the content and not a publisher responsible for creating it.
Pursuing Defamation on Facebook Means That a Statement MUST Fit the Criteria For Defamation
It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes determining whether something fits the criteria for being called defamation can be tricky. Below are some easy to follow guidelines to determine whether a statement could be considered defamatory. If you find yourself with questions and aren’t sure whether something is online defamation, it’s always better to talk to a reputable defamation attorney first before going into any legal proceedings.
A Statement is Considered Online Defamation If…
- It is untrue and obviously harmful to the reputation of the individual concerned. For example, saying that a high school teacher had an affair with one of their students. There is no way that this statement would not destroy the reputation of the teacher in question.
- It is not a blatant opinion. This is where things can get tricky because just phrasing a statement as though it were opinion is not enough to avoid a defamation suit. For example, saying “I think this high school student had an affair with one of their students” is a statement that is made with full knowledge that if untrue it would destroy the reputation of the teacher in question, so why say it at all? If you don’t have the facts about a situation like this, it’s always best not to share it at all.
You can find some other qualifying criteria for defamatory statements in our recent article on the difference between slander and libel.
Do You Need Help Dealing with Business Defamation on Facebook?
If your business has been defamed on Facebook and you need the assistance of a reputable and experienced defamation attorney in Florida, Weidner Law can help. Just call 727-954-8752 today to make an appointment for a consultation with attorney Matt Weidner and start fighting back against online defamation today!