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Libel on Facebook costs ex-friend £22,000
Be very careful what you write on Facebook.
A London man who created a set of ficititious, malicious entries about Mathew Firsht has just been ordered to pay £22,000 in damages.
Grant Raphael fell out with his former school friend. The case centred around “a Facebook group titled “Has Mathew Firsht lied to you?” as well as a profile containing false claims about his sexuality, religion and political views.”
The first impact of the case is to make clear that on social networks all of us journalists, with the same responsibilities as professionals: if we lie or make things up, we can be sued.
Mr Raphael, whose business recently went into voluntary liquidation, now has to find £22,000 to pay his erstwhile friend.
It also highlights the impact of seemingly inconsequential actions. Joining a group called “Has Mathew Firsht lied to you?” might seem like a laugh, but by signing up, you are repeating the libel. All of a sudden, you could be implicated in the libel suit. The first class action lawsuit against every single member of a group with a libellous title – and there must be oodles of them – can’t be far away.
For the games industry, where many of us run websites, chat lobbies or in-game tools where users can generate content (including posting libellous comments) unchecked, it is a warning. Facebook appears to have escaped censure because it removed the offending posts as soon as it was told about them. I expect that its defence, like that of Internet Service Providers, is that they can’t be expected to police everything, but they respond quickly to allegations of libel, bigotry and other improprietary.
So any company which has any user-generated content needs very robust policies to act quickly when alerted to problems.
Equally, a warning to users that libellous comments could land them a thumping big bill might work wonders.
Now I’m just off to check that I don’t belong to any groups called “Bill Gates is not a nice man.”*
*This is not true.