Liking isn’t defaming

Court says you can like defamatory post without being responsible.

August 9, 2016 00:54
2 minute read.
Social media

Social media . (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Can you “like” a Facebook post of a dog defecating on a publication without getting in trouble with the law? The answer appears to be yes.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled on Monday that people can like the status of a potentially defamatory post without sharing in possible liability for the post. The decision addressed a dispute between Nideeli Media Ltd., which publishes a local print newspaper for the Ramat Gan-Givatayim area, and Yoel and Galit Shaul, who liked and shared derogatory posts against the outlet.

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One of the posts depicted the local paper as garbage with a picture of it in the garbage, while a second showed a dog defecating on the paper – also sending the message that the paper was lousy.

The Shauls were not the original poster – whose identity is unknown. Rather, they merely liked and shared the posts.

Nideeli argued that liking and sharing a clearly defamatory post ensures that it will be widely distributed to others to harm the one being defamed, claiming that this meets the test for defamation even if the law does not deal with the nuances of Facebook etiquette.

The court ruled in favor of Nideeli and against the Shauls, saying the original posts were defamatory, and added that the Shauls could have been liable if they were the original poster.

However, the court then rejected Nideeli’s argument that liking or sharing someone else’s post could constitute a “publication” standing on their own.

The court said that liking and sharing in Facebook etiquette are too open to other possible interpretations.

For example, sometimes people like or share a post simply because they like the person who posted it or for some other social-dynamic reason and not because they support or even read the content.

The mere click of the button also seems to undermine the level of thought associated with making a publication that can be viewed as defamatory – as opposed to the original poster, who had to think about creating and drafting the post.

Finally, only the original poster can remove the whole string of posts and likes, not the people who like or share the post.

Overall, the court suggested that the Knesset update the defamation law to better grapple with the new issues technology has raised with appropriate nuance.

In the meantime though, the court said Facebook likes and shares, without far more, could not carry liability for defamation brought on by the original post.

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