Social media – Defamation and regulation
The media has reported this week that Martin Lewis, founder and chair of Money Saving Expert, has issued High Court proceedings against Facebook, in order to bring a claim for defamation.
Mr Lewis’ online blog reports that his claim is based on allegedly fake adverts, posted on Facebook, which include his image and name ‘alongside a raft of false promises and endorsements’.
It is also reported that the adverts complained of have allegedly caused financial loss to individuals who have been ‘conned’ into investing in products they believed to be endorsed by Lewis.
Broadly speaking, to successfully bring a defamation claim, a claimant must show that the defendant has published a defamatory statement to a third party which has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
A key element of establishing a claim in defamation is that the defendant is a publisher, rather than simply a platform on which the defamatory statement is published. Based on media reports so far, it appears that the adverts complained of are not simply third party publications on the website but use paid for advertising space. Whilst at this stage the full details of the claim are unknown, it will be interesting to see whether this is a point of contention in the proceedings.
Adverts that appear on other platforms, such as on television or in newspapers, are strictly regulated and legislated for. In light of continuing issues, such as the recent fake news and data scandals, the courts may well step in and use the law as a tool to introduce restrictions on what social media sites can and cannot do.
If successful, the outcome of Martin Lewis’ claim could have wide ramifications on social media outlets and the content published on their sites. It remains to be seen if cases such as this begin to pave the way for the implementation of a regulatory or legislative framework governing the behaviour of social media networks used by many of us.
We will report on any developments in the case as it progresses.
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