The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth – Libel, Slander And Defamation

With the increase in the use of social media more and more people are putting down their thoughts down in ‘black and white’. People use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to share what they think about individuals and companies. We may believe that we have an entitlement to freedom of speech but when people cross the line and say things that are simply not true about individuals and companies this can have a damaging effect on an individual or a company. Often individuals rely on social media sites to build networks of potential customers and clients. If one person writes something that is not true in order to discredit that person then there are potential grounds for a claim in defamation. Defamation is a form of civil dispute in England and Wales. This means that the County Court has jurisdiction and will determine the remedy (compensation and injunctions are two common remedies that Courts can order against people who have been found to publish defamatory comments). The actual word ‘defamation’ covers two forms of civil wrong, libel and slander. Libel is a ‘lasting’ publication which includes comments on Facebook, in newspapers or words broadcast on the television. Slander is the other form of defamation and mainly concerns the spoken word. The difference being that slander is what is traditionally known as ‘spreading false rumours’ (spoken) and libel would be that which is written. These ‘civil wrongs’ have been acknowledged by the Courts and two famous cases that concern defamatory statements are Sim v Stretch (1936) and Skuse v Granada Television (1996). The statutory law that concerns defamatory statements includes the imaginatively titled “Defamation Act 2013”. The first clause of this Act states the following: “A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant”. The question of what constitutes ‘serious harm’ has been debated in recent case law. For a claim in libel the Claimant needs to prove that there has been a defamatory statement made. This will usually be fairly easy to do (a screen shot of the offending comment may suffice). In order to have grounds for a claim the statement would need to be published to someone else (a note pinned to a notice board in a room that no one goes in would therefore not constitute defamation as there had been no publication to a third party). With the wonders of modern technology a defamatory comment can quickly spread on social media and people can, on Twitter, repeat a defamatory statement at the click of a button in a ‘retweet’.