So you have 300 Facebook friends, a Twitter account, use GPS mobile phone applications, give your opinion on specialized sites and criticize blog entries. Others react to your strong opinions, or to your biting sarcasm. You are hot-blooded, easily angered, and impulsive in sharing your good and bad experiences. Are you immune to legal proceedings?
The definition of defamation differs depending on whom you ask, but most say it affects the reputation of someone or something. Granted, people have personal views on what constitutes ruining a reputation. As proof, the saying “There is no bad publicity… what counts is that they are talking about you,” which almost dismisses the idea of defamation. However, to most, reputation is sacred.
Social networking promotes the expression of anger, points of view, and various opinions. Twitter is a sort of unformatted, unchecked and super-fast newswire. A “good” Twitter account must be well used, quick and original. Some monumental mistakes, such as announcing the death of Pat Burns, who is still alive today, are part of the unenviable history of this mass media. A Twitter account that has nothing to say is of no interest to anyone. It almost promotes predicting the future of events based on personal feelings. Twitter is open to everyone. Anyone can attempt to gain some credibility by boosting interest for falsehoods, various opinions, and, sometimes, whether intended or not, defamation.
Last month, certain media reported on the possibility of 700 hotels suing Trip Advisor, the largest travel review site. These hotels claim that the content on Trip Advisor —coming from the Internet community— was deceptive and defamatory. Around the same time, a student from New Jersey killed himself after his roommates broadcast filmed revelations about him on Facebook. Lastly, closer to home, a few days later, David Abitbol was accused of making threats also on Facebook. His parents believed that it was just some tasteless jokes, but we learned that the worst was yet to come in this case.
Three events, three results, three levels of severity, but with one thing in common: heedless users attracting legal proceedings.
So, are you feeling the heat? You should know that your home insurance does not cover you as is very apparent in your contract: defamation is excluded. In fact, your home insurance covers your public liability for your private life. If you are sued for defamation because of your statements, regardless of whether proceedings are founded or not, your insurance company cannot help you. So this is another reason for being careful. Come to think of it, perhaps the Web is not the ideal place to express your every thought.
However, there is additional insurance available to cover you: umbrella insurance. This insurance is public liability insurance that complements your home insurance, which provides additional coverage for risks already insured, or, for example defamation, covers exclusions found in your home insurance.
The important thing is not to become completely drab and afraid of every little thing. Show some discernment, patience, self-control… and remember that if your words can be misinterpreted, it can even be worse when they are written!