Exploring the Legal Issues Presented by the Rise of Sophisticated Social Media

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Free Speech or Libel?

The First Amendment, which prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech or freedom of the press, may lead people to believe they can say or print just about anything. However, there are limits on free speech. You cannot falsely shout fire, or shout anything in a crowded auditorium that would generally cause panic and harm. You cannot threaten the life of the president or incite harm against him. You cannot print libelous information or slander a person. All of these types of speech and other defamatory speech may land you in court, and possibly in jail in some cases.

In recent years, with the advent of social media, and countless bloggers making assertions and giving opinions, protected speech law has faced additional challenges. New case law is being formed every day in our courts regarding free speech as it relates to internet and social media venues.

Moore v. Allen 2009

One measure of libelous speech is whether or not the speech is true. Generally, it has been the case that if something is written that is true, it does not constitute libel or defamation. However, in recent cases, the truth or validity of an assertion no longer can be relied upon to protect your free speech rights. One such defamation case in Minnesota, Moore v. Allen, June, 2009, awarded the plaintiff $60,000 for damages caused by a truthful but damaging remark by blogger John Hoff.

The complaint charges that remarks made by John Hoff caused plaintiff, Jerry Moore to be fired from his job. The remarks were affirmed by the jury to be true, but the fact that John Hoff “intentionally interfered” with Jerry Moore’s employment, resulting in Mr. Moore’s firing, was sufficient to return a verdict of guilty against John Hoff. Furthermore, when a request for a new trial was made, or alternatively for the court to set aside the jury, it was denied and the award was upheld.

Intentional Harm

The pervasive, widespread use of the internet and social media has increased the likelihood that you may be the victim of defamation at some point in your life. The damage caused by libelous comments and careless, intentionally hurtful dissemination of information may be injurious to you in many ways.

The integration of social media links on websites and blogs makes it easy to quickly share information worldwide. When someone wants to share information from a blog, they can just hit the “share” button and over 750 million Facebook users will have access to the shared information. Social media linking happens quickly and without thought. People think they are anonymous so they are not afraid to say things that they might not normally share.

If you believe you have been the victim of internet libel, or have been mentioned in a blog or online forum in terms that could damage your reputation, you should seek legal counsel.

Seek Legal Remedy

Lost employment opportunities, damage to your business, loss of trust, being fired from a job, losing income and emotional distress are some of the injuries that you may have suffered due to defamation on social media. It is not just your neighbor that hears and gossips about you anymore, but rather the whole internet community. Employers frequently search the internet for information about prospective employees. Lenders, clients, business associates and even people you are dating, may search on line for information about you. A harmful, libelous article or commentary on your character or activities may be devastating to your life.

If you have been injured by the propagation of lies and hurtful defamatory remarks made online, don’t hesitate to talk with a lawyer to find out if you have a case. You may be entitled to a legal remedy.