Are you responsible if friends share your offensive Facebook post?

The court didn’t just hold the woman responsible for her own inflammatory posts, but also those of her friends.
The court didn’t just hold the woman responsible for her own inflammatory posts, but also those of her friends. (Photo: REUTERS/Stefanie Loos)

Those who use Facebook and other social media sites sometimes write mean things when we’re mad or agitated, which could get us in trouble. If you are the writer of a mean post and your friends not only share your post but make their own inflammatory comments, can you be held responsible for their comments?

A British Columbia court recently found a woman, who wrote insulting posts about her neighbour on Facebook, responsible for defamation. The court didn’t just hold her responsible for her own inflammatory posts, which she deleted but also those of her friends, who shared her post and added their own insulting comments.

Deleting comments you made may not be enough get you out of trouble if your friends have already shared them, because they’re out there on the Internet, often permanently.

Social media can be a force for good, as it helps us stay in touch with friends and relatives all over the world. However, its widespread use also has a dark side, as it’s much easier for people to commit libel.

Libel occurs when someone says something negative about another person that is untrue and it’s on permanent record, like on a Facebook post.

This is also known as defamation, which is the making of a false, malicious statement with the intent to damage someone’s reputation. It’s not enough though to make the statement to another person, for it to be defamation; it also must be made to other people.

The problem with social media is that the sharing of information and commentary to other people and by other people happens quickly, because it opens up a global audience.

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