The media often reports on situations where someone is taken to task for posting defamatory statements about someone else on social media.
There are two types of defamation, libel and slander. Libel is typically a statement that seriously harms the reputation of an identifiable party and is often communicated to a third party in writing, printed or in some permanent form. Slander is typically a statement that seriously harms the reputation of an identifiable party and is communicated to a third party in spoken, verbal or temporary form.
In the recent case of Stocker v Stocker, the Court of Appeal had to decide if a person who posted defamatory comments on a Facebook wall, was responsible in law for their publication to third parties.
This was a case between an ex-husband and wife. Mrs Stocker became Facebook friends with her ex-husband's new girlfriend, Ms Bligh. She subsequently commented on a status update posted on Ms Bligh's Facebook wall. Ms Bligh then posted a further status update with a request for Mrs Stocker to call her. This led to Mrs Stocker making various comments on the Facebook wall which her ex-husband alleged were defamatory.
Mrs Stocker argued that although she knew her comments on Ms Bligh's initial status update were visible to Ms Bligh's Facebook friends, she believed that her comments following the further status update were private. The court rejected this argument and upheld the defamation claim. In the judges’ opinion Mrs Stocker did not give a moment's thought to the fact that those exchanges were accessible to all Mrs Bligh's Facebook friends.
Mrs Stocker was not satisfied with the High Court’s ruling and appealed the decision. She argued that, in light of the judge's finding, she was not responsible in law for publishing the comments. The Court of Appeal did not agree.
It held that Mrs Stocker's posting of comments on Ms Bligh's Facebook wall was no different to the putting up of a notice on a conventional notice board, accessible to third parties. The comments were instantly accessible to all of Ms Bligh's Facebook friends and Mrs Stocker published them directly to every third party who read them on the Facebook wall. Mrs Stocker was aware that the particular Facebook platform was semi-public and deliberately posted on it, without thinking about who else might see her posts.
The Court of Appeal confirmed there was nothing unjust in holding that she was responsible for publishing defamatory material to third parties.
It’s been reported that this case has left Mrs Stocker with a legal bill in excess of £200,000.
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Nicola Stocker, from Longwick, claimed property developer Ronald Stocker had tried to kill her, during an online exchange with his new partner Deborah Bligh in December 2012. Mr Stocker, 67, won a libel case against his ex-wife at London's High Court in 2016 after it was ruled the comments wrongly painted him as a "dangerous and thoroughly disreputable man".