Defamation on social media: the ramifications

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Dear Editor,

Two writings on critising came into our limelight recently. One was on ‘Honda M’sia apologises for insensitive FB comment on Adib’s death’ (Dec 18, 2018) and ‘Will Rahim sue all Malaccans for criticising him’ (Dec 19, 2018).

The use of social media for communication has grown rapidly over the last few years.

Critics will post views and statements on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and others are said to be and are a negative criticism and indeed passionate.

This may be because not many are able to write, comment, or criticize positively in newspapers or major newspaper portals because they do not meet the requirements of the ‘editorial session’ or do not get the ‘remuneration’ as expected.

Submitting something negative or voiceless not in accordance with the ‘editor’s’ requirement is not wrong or subject to prosecution of the court.

Whether your submission is accepted for sharing depends also on ‘editorial press’ or media publisher.

The question of whether you may be charged with the negative comments you send on social media depends on whether your writing and your statements are defamatory, bad intentions and intentional.

Defamation involves writing (publishing) or saying something about someone who is damaging to the person’s reputation.

In addition, the statement must be submitted as true but, in fact, is not true. It is also not subject to immunity, for example, in terms of public figures.

There are two types of defamation: libel (defamatory written or published) and speech defamation.

Defamation involving social media is considered to be defamatory as the statement is published and shared to public.

The best defense against the lawsuit-based defamation law you made online is that what you have posted is absolutely true. If your statement is true, you will surely be released from the prosecution.

However, proving the truth can be time-consuming and costly.

If you can prove that your published statement is merely a matter of your opinion and not an over-statement, then it is sufficient for yourself to be indicted later.

Opinions and views that are truthful are not easy to prove.

Saying “I think” or “In my opinion that …” is not enough to prove your statement is just a view or opinion.

For example, your online statement reads, “I think they are the one who are involved in the killing,” perhaps sounds like an opinion.

But in fact, you know that your neighbors and readers may believe you have knowledge of the situation altering the statement and can be one of the potential facts to be verified.

Separating your opinion from a verifiable statement is the key to defending yourself from being said to be defamatory. The context or content of your statement is important.

If you post a comment saying, “The person is a fool,” you have made a statement that cannot be fully verified.

Your opinion or comment only states that a person has a low social position.

However, if you declare, “The person has never held any position or experience in holding an office,” you must ensure and have a record of fact that he or she has never worked or you may find yourself indicted for spreading defamation.

Public figures (politicians and high profile individuals) cannot sue you for posting negative comments about them unless they can prove “real resentment” which is defined as intentionally making a false statement or act by accidentally ignoring the truth or making false statements.

The two public figures in question include those with power and influence, such as the Prime Minister, members of the House of Representatives, professional athletes, film stars and others whose names are famous. They are considered ‘public figures or celebrities’.

The second public figure is a person who is usually regarded as individual and for certain reasons or activities in which they voluntarily participate. This group is known as ‘limited public figures’.

This difference is important because limited public figures only need to meet “real hatred” if the defamation is related to the specific cause or activity in which they are involved.

Some examples of defamatory and non-defamatory statements can be listed below.

Remember: If the statement is true and you can prove it, it is not defamatory.

Defamatory

  • Calling a person as criminal
  • Accuses someone stealing
  • Claims someone as an Islamic terrorist

Non-defamatory

  • Referring to the game show participants or the game sports as “stupid and foolish”
  • Saying a politician is “damaging the state”
  • Calling the Search and Wings group “the worst ‘rock’ group

Having a healthy mind is the best way to determine whether something you want to post or share is defamatory.

One of the most popular memes on social media uses the THINK acronyms and suggests that before you share something online, you must make sure it’s True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind.

The gap between statements that meets the THINK criteria and defamatory statements are huge.

There is plenty of room for humor, satire and opinion in the use of social media. What does not exist is the space to lie or to discredit others.

 

Kheru Khek is an educator,
He can be reached at email: [email protected]

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