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Social media – beware defamatory statements

The SC has held that the context in which words are used in relation to defamation proceedings is essential.

Following the breakdown of their marriage, W made comments about H on Facebook including the words ‘he tried to strangle me’.

H brought a defamation claim on the basis that use of the words ‘he tried to strangle me’ suggested that he had tried to kill her and was thus a dangerous man.

W denied this interpretation and felt it was reasonable to suggest that he was dangerous on the basis of his previous arrests. The HC looked at the dictionary definition of ‘strangle’ as its starting point and concluded it could be interpreted as meaning that H had indeed intended to kill his wife and his claim succeeded.

The SC allowed the wife’s appeal. They held that in relation to a defamation claim, context was critical. This comment was made on Facebook and a court must keep in mind the way that a social media user would read and interpret such postings. The SC gave weight to the fact that a Facebook post would be impressionistic and fleeting and the way that the reader might interpret such comment might be different in another context. See Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17 and commentary by Eversheds Sutherland.

 

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