People may have to be more careful with the content they post on social media platforms and consider if the content is defamatory after a recent case saw a defendant having to pay €65,000 in compensation after posting defamatory comments on Facebook.

The law of defamation is governed in Ireland by the Defamation act 2009, which defines defamation as the publication, by any means, of a defamatory statement concerning a person to one or more persons. This requirement of publication can be fulfilled by print in a newspaper, posting on social media or even just expressing the statement to a third party. The act further defines a defamatory statement as, a statement which tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable member of society.

The protection of a person’s right to a good name must however be balanced with the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by the Irish Constitution. This has always been a difficult balancing act but is becoming ever more complicated with the rising popularity of social media.

The law on defamation is applicable to any sort of communication, be it print media, blogs and comments online and whilst defamation actions concerning comments made in the print media have been somewhat common place, it is only recently that actions regarding defamatory statements published on social media have been agitated in the Irish courts.

Following a recent judgment in the Irish courts, people will have to be more careful in relation to what they post online.  Last month, Judge John Aylmer of Carrick -On-Shannon Circuit Court awarded a man who was defamed on Facebook, €65,000 in damages. In that case, the defendant posted a comment on Facebook suggesting that the plaintiff stole funds in the 1980s and 1990s. Judge Aylmer ruled the plaintiff had been victim of “a particularly nasty defamation” with “pretty devastating effects for him”.

This case was only the second of its type to be adjudicated in the Irish courts and came just a year after a Co Offaly man was awarded €75,000 after untruthful claims were posted about him on Facebook.

Recent case law suggests that Irish courts are not averse to awarding high levels of compensation for defamatory statements posted on social media and it is clear that people can no longer comment online with impunity.

Derek Walsh

 

Derek Walsh,  Solicitor at Keating Connolly Sellors, can be contacted at dwalsh@sellors.ie or by telephone on +353 (0)61 414 355 or +353 (0)61 414 353.

The material contained in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. We advise people to always seek specific expert advice for their individual circumstances.

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