· Defamation of character (libel and slander).
· You can be sued for what you say.
· Words cannot be taken back.
· Cyber-bullying factor (Criminal liability, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress)
Freedom of speech is perhaps the most sacred of all rights under the United States Constitution, but with that freedom comes responsibility. The First Amendment is not absolute. What you say can have legal consequences. Without getting into state specific definitions, defamation is taking some action to damage a person’s reputation. Defamation is usually broken down into general categories: libel and slander.
Libel is written defamation, and slander is spoken defamation. In general, if you say or write something that is untrue, and it causes financially quantifiable harm, you may be liable for money damages. It follows you need to be careful what you say about people on Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media.
Let’s assume I am a thriller writer. I have a rival named Luigi Vampa. Luigi’s books always sell better than mine. I make up a story that Luigi plagiarizes his novels. I post it all over Twitter and Facebook. As a result, Luigi loses a book deal where he would have received a million dollar advance and royalties of a million dollars. Am I liable for this? More than likely, yes, and I could have to pay Luigi a few million dollars because I committed libel i.e. written defamation.
Now assume I am a motivational speaker. My rival, Tom Thumb, is better. He gets larger
audiences, and his stories are more compelling. I hate Tom. I envy Tom, and I want to hurt him. So I start saying Tom fathered numerous illegitimate children, none of whom he pays for. He uses the millions he makes from speaking and writing just for himself.
Tom loses all credibility, and his speaker’s bureau cancels his tour. He loses two million dollars.
Am I liable to Tom Thumb? Yes, assuming it can be shown that my spoken words directly caused Tom’s economic harm. That’s slander.
o The Tie-In
It should be obvious by now how your words on social media may subject you to legal
Liability for defamation of character. While you may not be liable for millions of dollars, it costs money to defend a lawsuit, and do you really want to be known as someone who defames another person?
I’m amazed at the things people say on social media. We’ve all said things we shouldn’t, but some people go insane on social media. They spew the most vile venom. This kind of thing is not allowed under the law if it is untrue and if it causes financial damage. Even if there are no legal consequences, the damage to your own reputation that comes from spewing nasty comments should be considered before ever writing anything on social media or a blog.
“Cyberbullying” involves the use of the Internet, though mobile technology or other
computer devices, to harass, humiliate or cause harm to another person. This can take many forms.
For example, assume a high school student takes an unflattering picture of another student, posts it online, and then the picture goes viral. The student who had his or her picture taken does not approve of the photo, nor does student give consent for the photo to be posted. People say humiliating things and begin to repost the picture, and student eventually commits suicide as a result.
Sadly there are many instances of this sort of thing, and there have been many suicides in the last few years due to this kind of harassment. That’s why many states are enacting so-called “cyber-bullying” laws, which impose criminal penalties when certain elements are met.
In addition to criminal penalties, there are also civil penalties too. Depending upon the state’s laws, it could be viewed as intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress usually involves activity that is “extreme and outrageous.” This intentional behavior results in extreme emotional distress to the afflicted individual. It is usually emotional in nature, but there can be physical manifestations.
Negligent infliction of emotional distress is when there is behavior that is likely to cause extreme emotional distress to the afflicted individual.
Requirements vary from state to state, but it is never a good idea to engage in this kind of behavior. It is cruel, and it can subject you to civil and possibly criminal liability.
Words matter. They can carry legal consequences, so be careful what you say. If you are
are not careful with what you say, you may face civil and possibly criminal liability. Contrary to what many people say, you aren’t free to say what you want.