Can You Be Sued for Something You Post on Facebook?


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Since Facebook’s launch, millions of users have been drawn to the site to give friends updates, share pictures and reconnect. As such, it has provided people with a platform to communicate information in a way that they may otherwise never have considered. While posting information on Facebook may give people a sense of anonymity especially if their profile does not reflect their true identity, posting certain information on Facebook may provide the basis for a lawsuit.

Defamation of Character

One cause of action that may arise from posting information on Facebook is a defamation of character claim. To prove defamation of character, the victim has to show that you made a statement that was published, it caused the victim injury and it was false and was not a privileged statement. The statement must be spoken or written. Spoken defamation is usually referred to as “slander,” while written defamation is usually referred to as “libel.”

While many people may look at Facebook as a private medium to share information, Facebook is actually considered a public forum by many. Furthermore, multiple courts in various jurisdictions have found that there is no legitimate expectation of privacy on Facebook, even when users take precautions to keep certain content “private.” The victim has to show that someone saw the post. Successfully winning a defamation suit does not require that many people saw the communication, as even an email sent to one person has provided justification for an award in other libel actions.

The statement must be damaging to the individual, including to his or her reputation. This may require that the individual show how he or she was damaged from the statement, such as being ostracized from a social group or losing business at his or her store. Some states have “slander per se” standards in which certain statements are presumptively slanderous, such as statements that a person committed a crime, was professionally incompetent or was promiscuous or a carrier of a disease.

Truth is a defense to a defamation lawsuit. It is not libelous or slanderous for a person to repeat a truthful statement about someone, even if the statement may damage that person’s reputation.

There are specific laws about referencing someone else’s post or repeating it, which generally state that a re-tweeter or re-poster is not considered the publisher or speaker of the original information. There are also special laws in some states that limit liability if a person quickly removes a post or tweet. There are also different standards that may apply if the person being posted or tweeted about is considered a public figure as the law recognizes that public figures put themselves in a position to be ridiculed. Typically, a public figure must show actual malice behind the statement in order to prevail.

Harassment

Cyberbullying and an increase in intimidating behavior on social media channels have resulted in many states enacting laws that prohibit online harassment specifically. Even if such laws do not exist, current state harassment laws may provide a basis for a lawsuit. This may include cases in which a person impersonates someone else and pretends to post as him or her.

Invasion of Privacy

Another cause of action that may arise from posting information to Facebook is an invasion of privacy claim. This cause of action may arise when a person’s private information is posted to Facebook or when embarrassing photos of a person surface when the individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Copyright Infringement

Although unlikely, if a person posts content that is copyrighted by someone else without the owner’s permission, the owner of the content can theoretically sue for copyright infringement.

Consideration

The above causes of action largely rely on the interpretation of state laws, which vary widely across the country. If someone has filed a lawsuit against you for a Facebook posting or you believe that you are the victim, a torts lawyer in your area may be able to help.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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