This month has seen two interesting UK court judgments for two separate cases deciding (partly) upon how defamatory meanings are to be interpreted in relation to Facebook posts. The first was by the UK Supreme Court on 3 April and the second was by the English and Welsh High Court on 16 April.

The UKSC case of Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17 related to a post on a person’s Facebook wall that used the words: “He tried to strangle me.” The judgment in Stocker said at paragraph 41: “The fact that this was a Facebook post is critical. The advent of the 21st century has brought with it a new class of reader: the social media user. The judge tasked with deciding how a Facebook post or a tweet on Twitter would be interpreted by a social media user must keep in mind the way in which such postings and tweets are made and read.”

The Stocker judgment also referred at paragraph 44 to the High Court judgment in Monir v Wood [2018] EWHC (QB) 3525, where at paragraph 90 The Honourable Mr Justice Nicklin said: “Twitter is a fast moving medium. People will tend to scroll through messages relatively quickly.”

The Stocker judgment adopted this approach to interpreting defamatory meanings in Facebook posts and said of Mr Justice Nicklin’s above statement: “Facebook is similar. People scroll through it quickly. They do not pause and reflect. They do not ponder on what meaning the statement might possibly bear. Their reaction to the post is impressionistic and fleeting.”

The English and Welsh High Court in the case of Dr Katherine Alexander-Theodotou and others v Georgios Kounis [2019] EWHC 956 (QB), which determined the meaning of another Facebook post, said however at paragraph 52 of its judgment later in April 2019: “This was a serious item, on a serious topic, posted on the Facebook page of a campaign group. It is not a frivolous or transitory piece on an individual’s social media account, which might be read with a slapdash approach.” The particular Facebook post in the Alexander-Theodotou case was in the form of a press release.

When you read the facts and circumstances of the cases in the judgments themselves, you can see why the courts approached the interpretation of defamatory meanings differently in relation to the specific Facebook posts referred to in each of the above two claims. These judgments illustrate how arguments over defamatory meanings continue to be pivotal in many social media libel claims, and how context as well as the content of social media posts is important.

 


 

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