Libel on Facebook: Recent Williamson County Decision

Facebook and other social media sites can be excellent ways for staying connected with friends and family as well as valuable marketing tools for growing a business network and clientele base.  Those familiar with Facebook and Twitter also know that social media can be a place where people feel especially free or even strangely entitled to share far too much information about themselves and their negative opinions about other people. In business, the rise of social media marketing carries the promise of great benefit, but it also creates the problem of unhappy clients posting harsh or disparaging reviews and opinions through private accounts or on the business’ public pages.One of the greatest problems with current social media comes in the form of false statements that are posted on a business’ public page by people who have the intent of harming that business.Such a case of business disparagement was recently heard in the Williamson County courts.  In this case, an individual posted false statements on a business’ Facebook page that were then published to that business’ current clients, friends and their families.  The statements falsely accused the business’ employees of criminal misconduct and attacked the owner’s reputation and honesty.The business caught the offending post early, removed it, and closed down its social marketing for a full month during what should have been its peak advertising time to prevent the individual from having access for further attacks.A lawsuit for libel (publishing false statements) and business disparagement was immediately brought against the individual, seeking damages for lost business caused by the false statements.The Court heard the case and awarded the full amount of lost business damages.  The Court then went on to award additional punitive damages to make it clear that such malicious behavior is unacceptable and carries serious consequences.Social media marketing is part of the future of marketing and can be highly valuable in building brand recognition and a strong, local clientele base.  When local businesses face false and malicious attacks through their social media sites, there may be legal recourse to help recover business damages and prevent the offenders from repeating their offensive behavior.

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