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Can I Get Sued for Libel for Reposting on Social Media?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Updated by Melanie Rauch, JD | Last updated on

It’s crucial to understand the legal consequences of our online actions. Retweeting a post on Twitter may seem like the simple click of a button, but it can lead to serious legal implications if the content is defamatory.

What Constitutes Defamation on Social Media?

Defamation involves making a false statement about someone that harms their reputation. On social media, defamation often manifests as libel, since it concerns written statements. A defamatory tweet, post, or retweet that spreads false information about a person can lead to a defamation claim, especially under the rigorous standards set by defamation law in places like California, New York, and England.

When you retweet defamatory material, you may potentially face a defamation lawsuit. According to libel law, the act of republishing someone else’s defamatory tweet, known as republication, can make you as liable as the original tweeter. This applies even if you are merely sharing the original tweet without adding any commentary.

The Role of Actual Malice in Defamation Cases

However, a defamation claim can be hard to win. If the plaintiff is a public figure, the defendant must have acted with actual malice, knowing the statement was false, or with reckless disregard for its truth. The Supreme Court established this standard to balance freedom of expression with protecting individuals’ reputations.

For example, a celebrity would have difficulty suing you for re-posting gossip from a celebrity magazine. However, if you retweet something about a co-worker, friend, or other non-public figure, the standard is lower — they only need to show that you were negligent in re-posting it.

The Communications Decency Act (CDA)

In 1996, a landmark piece of U.S. legislation designed to control the exposure of minors to indecent material on the internet was put into law. The (CDA) provides immunity to online platforms and service providers from being held liable for content posted by their users. This legal shield is foundational for social media companies, blogs, forums, and essentially any online service that publishes third-party content.

The Impact of Section 230 for Defamatory Posts

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media platforms and internet service providers are generally shielded from liability for content posted by their users. However, this protection does not extend to individual users who retweet defamatory content. Therefore, X (Twitter) users and other social media participants should be cautious about retweeting, as they do not receive the same legal protection as the platforms themselves.

Tips for Social Media Users:

  1. Verify Information Before Retweeting: Always check the credibility of the information before sharing it. Avoid retweeting false statements that could harm someone’s reputation, particularly if that person is not a public figure.
  2. Understand the Risks: Be aware of the defamation laws in your jurisdiction and the potential legal risks associated with sharing defamatory content.

While the First Amendment and similar protections in other countries like India and England provide broad freedom of speech, these rights do not absolve individuals from responsibility for what they disseminate online. As social media continues to shape the way we communicate, understanding the intersection of free speech and defamation law is essential to navigate the potential legal pitfalls of platforms like Twitter.

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