Ruff Justice? Online Reviews and 'Raising the Bar' In Defamation Cases

15th October 2021 Media Law

Despite having been with us for less than 20 years, the most popular social media platforms have brought about considerable change.

They have dramatically altered the way that billions of people communicate with one another.

Recent estimates, for instance, suggest that almost 4.5 billion people - 57 per cent of the world's population - now have their own social media accounts.

Social media, however, has had a substantial impact on the legal system too.

Last year, I told the Daily Telegraph how online rows, including those resulting from negative reviews about businesses, had prompted an increase in the number of defamation cases brought before the courts.

In the months since, critical comments have continued to generate complaints.

Only in recent days, various media have published stories about a London dog trainer who has issued defamation proceedings against both a former worker and a rival Hampshire business.

Oliver Sciota maintains that allegations about the way which he treated animals in his care are "groundless".

He has also explained concerns that "one-star negative reviews" might damage his business.

Embarking on defamation proceedings is never a decision which is easily made, not least because they can take some time to resolve and can be expensive.

In Mr Sciota's case, he is reportedly to be seeking some £20,000 in damages, a figure which puts his case among the lowest value defamation claims, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice.

That he and others are prepared to take legal action demonstrates just how important good reputations are in business.

Everyone with a social media account is effectively their own publisher, albeit without the kind of legal checks and controls which are integral to more traditional print and broadcast outlets.

To avoid the prospect of legal action, it is essential to think carefully before posting anything online.

Social media allows us to freely express opinions but we should all accept that being able to say what we think sometimes has legal consequences.

Being fully aware of the possible repercussions might make people think twice before pressing the 'send' button either because of a personal grievance or out of a sense of mischief.

We're Social

Laura Wilkinson is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Commercial LitigationMedia Law departments

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