Social Media Defamation

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In this day and age, technology plays an extremely important role in our lives especially with social media sites being commonly used worldwide by most people. Social media is a tool which has many positive advantages that it allows people from all walks of life to connect with each other. It also allows businesses to be more marketable and it gives the freedom to leaders and/or celebrities to communicate with their followers or fans on their activities, lifestyles or policies.

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However, where there is good, there is also adverse effects. One of the downside of social media is the negative effect it can have on an individual, company or people in general. Due to the fact that social media connects everyone around the globe regardless of where they are, this means that anyone can also be a victim of false rumours or malicious lies being spread about them. In legal terms, the said victim is being defamed.

Defamation is the communication of a false statement which has the effect of tarnishing, damaging or harming the reputation of an individual, business, product, group and even nations. With social media, there are those who use it as a platform to complain or say nasty things about their bosses, colleagues, ex-relationships and etc. This is known as social media defamation, and it has serious consequences in the eyes of the law.

A victim may sue a person for defamation to get compensation for having his/her reputation being tarnished or damaged. Section 499 of the Penal Code provides that:

“Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs, or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation and shall also be liable to fine of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.”

Section 500 of the Penal Code states that, “whoever defames another shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or both.”

It is not stated as to the amount of the fine. This means that every case will be treated differently and the amount varies, depending on each case.

Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 provides that: (1) A person who—

(a) by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service knowingly—

(i) makes, creates or solicits; and

(ii) initiates the transmission of,

any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person; or

(b) initiates a communication using any applications service, whether continuously, repeatedly or otherwise, during which communication may or may not ensue, with or without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at any number or electronic address, commits an offence.

Certain elements are needed to prove defamation such as proof of defamatory material, the content of the remark/post is about the victim and the said material which is deemed to be defamatory was circulated to other people other than the victim.

Innuendos or statements which have implied meanings also constitutes as defamation. As long as there are people who can suspect who the victim is or what the victim does, all of which may damage the victim’s reputation, it can be counted as defamation.

Defamation does not necessarily mean that the person being defamed must be named. Even if the person that is being defamed is not named, it could still be defamation if the said person could be identified or ascertained. As long as outsiders can guess who the person is talking about, then it could be defamatory. For those who are not involved in making the defamatory remarks or posts about the victim but shares the defamatory post, that person could also be liable to be sued. Anyone who republishes a defamatory statement has a responsibility to make sure that such a statement is true and fair, and will so be liable for defamation as well if they cannot prove that such statement is true and fair. They cannot defend themselves by stating that they are only reposting what someone else has said or that they are not responsible for what the original poster said as they chose to share the said defamatory post.

In a recent case in Malaysia, under social media defamation, the Court has granted compensation up to RM150,000 to a victim of defamation. However, do note that the amount varies according to the facts of each case.

Therefore, before posting anything bad or defamatory about anyone on social media, one should always take a step back and reflect on the consequences involved. Even if the post may be true, it still does not make it right. Social media is a powerful tool which can be life changing. Let’s use it to make the world a better place for all. Spread love, not hate.

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