When will a derogatory comment posted on a social networking site amount to defamation?

A derogatory comment posted on a social networking site will be defamatory if it contains an untrue imputation against the employer that serves to undermine the reputation of the organisation in the eyes of "right thinking" members of society. For the material to be libellous it must be in permanent form and must clearly identify the organisation (whether directly or by inference), and the meaning of the statement must be such that, in their natural and ordinary sense, the words are capable of damaging that individual or organisation's reputation. Section 1(2) of the Defamation Act 2013, which came into force on 1 January 2014, requires claimants that trade for profit to show that the statement has caused, or is likely to cause, "serious financial loss".

If material posted on a social networking site is capable of being defamatory, the defamed individual or entity can:

  • seek to have the material removed from the social networking site; and
  • bring a civil claim against both the author of the statement and the social networking site (as publisher) for damages to compensate for the harm caused to reputation.