Facebook 'Like' Lands Man in Court

John Lister's picture

A Swiss man is being sued for defamation for "liking" Facebook posts. But the court case looks set to concentrate on the individuals involved, rather than the technological principle.

"The Local," a English-language Swiss news site, reports that the man had clicked the "like" button beside eight different posts by a range of animal rights groups. Each of the posts accused another man involved in the animal rights movement of anti-Semitism and racism. (Source: thelocal.ch)

It's an intriguing legal point as technically the man being sued for libel has not written anything on the topic, let along something defamatory. However, the lawyers for the man bringing the case say that by liking the posts, he made them more visible.

Likes Increase Visibility

Technically this could be true as Facebook's algorithm means many of the defendant's friends will have seen the posts appear in their own newsfeeds, but would not have done so had he not clicked the like button.

This follows on from other cases, including in the UK, where courts concluded that to "retweet" a Twitter post counted as fresh publication and made the "retweeter" responsible for the contents of the post despite not writing it. However, Swiss courts took the opposite view when they ruled on similar cases. (Source: thenextweb.com)

It could be argued that Twitter users know and intend that a retweet will show the post to more people, whereas Facebook users don't necessarily understand the effects of liking a post.

Lawyers Say Posts Were True, Anyhow

In the Swiss case, the lawyers bringing forth the defamation case say the defendant deliberately tried to harm the man the posts were about and that he did so without any "justifiable cause." Both of these points are relevant to Swiss law on libel.

The problem for the tech world is that the case likely won't settle the point in Swiss law, let alone set an example that might influence courts in other countries. That's because the defendant's lawyers don't plan on arguing on whether or not a "like" should count as a potentially defamatory publication. Instead, they'll argue that the man bringing the libel action has a conviction for racial abuse and that the content of the eight posts in question is in fact true.

What's Your Opinion?

Should liking a post count as republishing it when it comes to defamation cases? Were you aware that clicking on the like button will increase the number of people who see a post? Have you ever held off on liking or sharing social media content because you believed it might be defamatory?

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Dennis Faas's picture

It is a sad day when people can sue you for voting ("liking") something on Facebook. Is there any difference if someone was at the 'scene of the crime' and shouted out the same? Would they have to go court or would this be a free speech issue? This case seems like a serious waste of the court's time.

ecash's picture

So, we are now responsible for our Personal OPINIONS, and LIKES..
But it was dependent on a SITE and its software..
It could be a switch to Change it NOT being forwarded to OTHERS except the original post..THEN the damage would lead to the Original post..NOT his opinion.

kitekrazy's picture

Press Like if you think the planet needs less lawyers. Not surprised since it's Europe.

skbinok's picture

Whether or not, something is distributed, when you 'like' something on facebook, has absolutely no bearing, on whether or not it is defamation. You are stating your opinion, using the mechanism provided. The results of you indicating your opinion of material posted by someone else, are controlled by facebook's post ranking system. And whether or not the post is more widely distributed, is out of control of the facebook user who likes a post.

The 'ambulance chaser' mentality of lawyers, these days, has nothing at all to do with law, but everything to do with weaseling money from others, based on faulty logic.

I want to find that post, and like it, also.

ecash's picture

If corps/people take another to Court, over and over and over...and STAY in court, along TIME, it KILLS EVERYTHING..

matt_2058's picture

So, this could get real messy if the plaintiff wins. Suppose a neighbor is playing his TV loud enough someone can hear offensive programming (such as in an apartment building).....could he be charged with whatever applies with respect to how the programming offends the neighbor?

How about loud music from the car at the redlight (I'm thinking rap) for racial issues?

Starting to sound stupid, huh?

lisbell_5960's picture

As often as not, I "like" something to acknowledge I've seen it. I may or may not actually like what they've said.