Young people get into fights all the time. Prior to the prevalence of Internet and social media, these fights would generally lead to words being thrown at each other, often directly through personal conversation or a phone call. They could also tell a friend, but no one would ever be able to prove what was said. Fast forward to the current social media landscape and it becomes a whole other battle - a legal one.
The worst case scenario of that friendly fight in today's technological world may go a little something like this. The same two friends get into a fight for the same reason and the same words are exchanged, only now, it's being exchanged through Twitter and Facebook. Mean, hurtful demeaning things are being said and, as with many fights, more attention is being paid to the hurt factor than the truthfulness of the statement. These comments are made on personal Facebook 'walls' or sent through a Twitter 'mention' gaining views from the public as well as the victim.
This is a typical scenario on social networks today but ever so often it goes even further. For example, one friend may choose to spread a maliciously false rumour by creating a fake Facebook profile or page and posting disparaging information in the voice of the victim, writing a blog post or even posting a video on YouTube. But do they ever think that this could land them in Court?
The false accusation of an offense or malicious misrepresentation of someone's words or action shared with a third party is an offense punishable by the law. Defamation, as this is called, can be done through spoken word, slander, or in a written format, libel, and is just as applicable in the technological world as it is in the physical world.
Many persons hide behind the perceived invisible cloak of social media, using fake names and profiles, thinking that what they do online cannot be tracked back to them in real life. They are very wrong for several reasons. Once information goes out online, it cannot come back. No matter how you may try to delete something online, chances are, there will still be a trace. Also, in cases of defamation, the Courts have the power to order websites and internet service providers to disclose info leading the victim of defamation to finding the source.
So think twice about the sense of anonymity and power you feel sitting behind that screen the next time you feel like saying bad things about someone, even if it is just a social network. Consider the sources of information you receive and whether they are reliable. If you must release any controversial statement for public consumption, ensure to do your own research to prove this information and record it just in case. An overall avoidance of making any comments that can be seen as defamatory is advisable to prevent any legal implications.
And the next time you think about writing or speaking ill of someone, consider this instead:
“If you must speak ill of another, do not speak it, write it in the sand near the water's edge" - Napolean Hill