These days it seems everyone has a social media website. Facebook and Twitter are by far the most popular, but there are others. Everyone loves to send an instant message to a group of friends and loved ones, celebrating their latest accomplishment or promoting an event. Unfortunately, not all messages are nice. Lately a growing trend has emerged. So called “mean tweets” or “facebook blasts” which embarrass or humiliate another person, are crimes under the law of California.
Legally, these crimes are called Defamation or Libel. Generally speaking, it is against the law to publish an untrue statement about another person if that statement causes the person to feel shame or loss of reputation in the community. The question then becomes, what can be done about it?
There are two primary options: 1) An Injunction; and 2) A lawsuit asking for money damages. An injunction is simply a lawsuit that asks the Court to order the offending party to take down the posting. No money is exchanged; however, the offending material is removed and the problem is usually solved. But even with an injunction, the material was still read by others and loss of reputation has still suffered. Money damages compensate the victim for their loss.
In California, money damages come in three types: 1) Specific Money Damages; 2) General Money Damages; and 3) Punitive Damages. Specific money damages are proven when the victim can point to specific lost revenue that was specifically caused by the defamation. This is often difficult to accomplish. General money damages are more realistic. This is a variable sum that is determined by the jury to compensate the victim based on the loss of reputation suffered. It can be as little as one dollar or as much as ten thousand dollars. The amount is up to the jury. Finally, punitive damages are a specific amount that the offending party is ordered to pay if they specifically published the material to cause the victim loss of reputation. This is also very difficult to prove.
To summarize, internet defamation is growing due to the ever expanding popularity of social media sites. With this popularity also comes the growing amount of internet defamation. It can be stopped; however, it is up to the victim to enforce their rights.