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Defamation-Social-Media-EnglishIn this digital era, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo has become part of human’s life. Recently, Trump and Clinton, being the candidates of United State President Election 2016 have fueled millions of Facebook postings, and if it is printed out, it is enough to cover a small city. This shows how powerful and influential social media is.

There is a misconception that the ordinary legal principles do not apply on social media. By simply expressing your opinions on internet without second thoughts, you might have violated the relevant statutory authorities, such as Defamation Act 1957 and Criminal Procedure Code. Internet users misunderstood that people will only be found liable for defamation by orally making a false statement about someone or publish it by written or printed words. It is not entirely true. The law on defamation extends online as well. We should not treat social media any different from the ordinary forms of publishing in term of defamation, more so the popularity of social media which assists in transmission of the information further add risk to it.

Before publishing any post, think of yourself as a newspaper editor, because the responsibility that you undertook for the defamatory statements that you have made is no difference from him.

Here are five legal tips/ things that you should know when you’re posting online:

1 Do not make libelous remarks that will damage other’s reputation

2 Respect other people’s privacy

3 Ensure that the source of the information is credible and accurate before sharing a post

4 Do not share or ‘retweet’ a post that is not true

5 Be a responsible netizen

 

1 Do not make libelous remarks that will damage other’s reputation

In 2011, a Canadian-national who was teaching at an international school in Malaysia brought a defamation action against his ex-girlfriend for making nasty accusations regarding him on social websites and ruined his reputation. Court of Appeal held unanimously that the Defendant had to pay a total damages of RM1,000,000 to the Plaintiff for the false accusations she made online. Due to her inability to pay the judgment sum, the Plaintiff is entitled to file a creditor’s petition against the Defendant, which can make her a bankrupt. Subsequently, the Defendant was found guilty of contempt of court as she ignored the court order and continued her onslaught on the Plaintiff. The Court further issued a warrant of arrest against the Defendant to have her to be brought before the Court.

The Defendant took an extreme approach in expressing her anger, by turning herself into a ‘keyboard warrior’. The defamatory statements that she made on the internet regarding the Plaintiff may have appeased her anger  for a short while, however, at the same time, she exposed herself to the risk of getting sued which costs her even more. At present, she can be made a bankrupt by the Plaintiff at any time and has a prison sentence pending against her.

In 2015, a medical doctor in Sibu is taking legal action against a company supervisor for making calumniatory statement about her on Facebook resulting her image as a professional doctor is tarnished. If the supervisor is unsatisfied about the fees on the medical treatment, he should lodge a complaint through the proper channel (i.e Malaysian Medical Council), instead of accusing her on Facebook.

The above cases demonstrate that the statements made online carry a certain weight which is sufficient to attract legal action against you.

Netizens omitted the fact that we are required to be responsible for the statements that we made on social platforms. Further, the ID account that is registered online enables him to conceal his true identity and allow him to speak out his opinions freely without being judged by the person around him.

We should be wary about the wording that we used on the internet. If any person suffers emotional distress or monetary losses as a consequence of the comments that you made earlier, he is entitled to bring a defamation suit against you.

 

2  Respect other people’s privacy

The incident took place in Melbourne, Australia. A woman has mistakenly shamed a man on social media who she believed was taking pictures of her children. She labelled the man as ‘creep’ on her post and claimed that the police is investigating on the matter. Her post was then shared 20,000 times in one day. This post was only made known  to the man in question the next day and he immediately clarified himself that he was actually taking a selfie next to a ‘Star Wars’ display to send it to his children. The man claimed that he and his family were devastated by the ordeal and he was considering legal action against the woman.

Apart from the detestable remarks that the woman made online, the action of taking a photo of him and publishing it online without his consent has violated his right of privacy as well. The fact that the picture of the man is uploaded on social platforms makes him recognizable by the public, the uploaded photo can be easily discovered regardless that it was happened decades ago. Even though the relevant post is deleted by the woman, no one can assure that it has not been downloaded and eventually uploaded to ‘Cloud Storage’.

 

3 Ensure that the source of the information is credible and accurate before sharing  a post

There has been a hoax (http://www.hoax-slayer.com/survive-heart-attack.html) that continuously circulating around internet since 1999 which recommends people to learn “Cough CPR”- a procedure that involves vigorous coughing as a potential means of surviving a heart attack when alone. The American Heart Association does not endorse “Cough CPR” and mentioned that “Cough CPR” should only be demonstrated under strict professional supervision and should not be taught to lay rescuers.

Before forwarding any information, especially related to medical advice, it is utmost important to ensure that the source of information is credible and reliable. The message mentioned is not condoned by any Medical Association nor any named medical experts. Forwarding this information is irresponsible as instead of saving a life, it might costs a life.

Lately, there is an alarming hoax circulating around the internet regarding 100 of children found with their organs harvested at the border of Thailand. The children were discovered by the Thai government when they found a van with hundred of children with their organs removed from their bodies. The message is attached with a heart-breaking photo which illustrates rows of dead children lined up on the floor.

However, according to reliable source (http://www.rojakpot.com/100s-children-found-organs-harvested/), they are not of victims who have had their organs harvested, but Syrian children whose death was caused by the attack of chemical warheads.

It is worth mentioning that there is no mention of this case in any mainstream news media such as CNN and BCC, despite the children died in such a peculiar manner. It was only found on social media like Facebook and Whatsapp. Think logically, how could these mass amount of children’s death did not make it on the national news? It is self-explanatory that the message is concocted and made up by rumormonger.

All of us should be accountable of the spreading of untruthful and misleading information, we should put an end on it and stop it from circulating in the internet.

 

4 Do not share ‘re-post’ or ‘retweet’ a post that is not true

Even though a person is not the author of of the defamatory postings, by sharing or ‘retweeting’ it on social websites can be held liable for defamation too. Therefore, you should be cautious that when you are sharing or ‘retweeting’ something scandalous, think twice about the possibility that you could be sued for this simple action.

 

5 Be a responsible netizen

Freedom of expression is the inseparable element of a democracy society. But, in practice, it is very difficult to balance between the right to freedom of expression, right to dignity and right to privacy. The definitions of ‘freedom’ to be given are at variance with each other. Some of the people take advantage of their rights to freedom of speech by making abusive insults or offensive comments on a person.

Everyone should be a responsible netizen and by all means, be courtesy to each other when posting something and respect other people’s opinion in an online situation. People may make reference to “Netiquette” (a combination of the words ‘Network’ and ‘Etiquette’) which is a set of rules that concerns with the way to communicate on the internet.

The advancement of technology has led to the age group of internet users decreasing. Nevertheless, young age is not a defence that you should not be held liable for defamation if you are capable to spread information which is hostile enough to damage one’s feeling or reputation.

Words are more powerful weapons than gun. Words can make or break a person. There is a Taiwan artist who was a victim of cyberbullying and decided to end her life at the age of 24 in 2015. Verbal violence is actually more dangerous than physical violence as it leaves no mark on one and does not show on the surface. You can’t identify person who is suffering the effect of verbal violence and to offer your assistance.

If everyone were to put oneself in else’s shoes, when people are looking at you like one kind when you are walking down the streets as a result of some defamatory remarks that people made about you on the internet, how would you feel? If we were to spend an extra minute thinking about the consequence before posting any hurtful comments on somebody, we might have save a life.

Elise Tam Vie Vian

Elise Tam Vie Vien

Elise Tam Vie Vien

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