Social media have a great potential to complement one’s life by making new acquaintances and friends. Through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media you can connect with people you may not have met before and establish new friendships. As with any other tool, however, social media can be used to disastrous effect to tear relationships apart.
Mathew Firsht, managing director of Applause Store Productions Ltd, launched the first successful Facebook libel suit. Firsht was the victim of an old school friend, Grant Raphael, who created a profile that purported to be him. The profile falsely indicated his sexual orientation, saying that he was ‘Looking for: whatever I can get’ in terms of relationships and was signed up to groups including Gay in the Wood… Borehamwood and Gay Jews in London. Raphael further defamed Fihrst by claiming that he had avoided paying money he owed by lying, and that he [Fihrst] and his company were not to be trusted and were a credit risk.
The Staffordshire Newsletter reported on the criminal law’s response to Jeremiah Barber falsely accusing a former friend, Raymond Bryce, of being a paedophile by posting a pornographic image on Bryce’s Facebook page and commenting, ‘Ray, you like kids and you are gay so I bet you love this picture, Ha ha’. The subsequent libel proceedings were reported both by the local paper the Staffordshire Newsletter and the national tabloid the Daily Mail.
The Staffordshire Newsletter reported that Raymond Bryce was again involved in defending his reputation on Facebook by suing another former friend, Tom Ball, for branding him a ‘very twisted individual who is capable of doing some very disturbing things’. This time, however, Bryce’s reputation was not defended with libel law. Bryce complained of harassment, saying that in order to go into Stafford, he needed to be accompanied by a security guard. Ball was ordered to pay £2,295.68 in court fees and £757.85 in damages – totalling £3,053.53.
I’m not a bully – never have been and never will be. He says he’s been bullied but I have as well. Since all this, I’m getting bullied by the legal system because obviously I can’t afford to back myself with a solicitor or anything like that. In the comment I made there’s no mention of Mr Bryce’s name in there and it does clearly state that it’s my personal opinion and it’s not fact, it’s just my opinion. Everyone else [has] their opinion every day, but it doesn’t get taken to court, and my personal opinion is that the harassment and loss of friends is due to the fact that he took one of his other friends to court for £10,000.
Such examples demonstrate the power social media has when used maliciously to disrupt and destroy reputations. This isn’t to say that social media is responsible for the behaviour – if someone did want to defame or harass another individual – it is still possible without social media. However, what social media does have the power to do is enable the disharmony (as well as harmony) between friends to be broadcasted to a wider audience, and makes that broadcasting irrevocable.
Old school friends, former colleagues and passing acquaintances, persons not so closely connected with an individual, as Facebook friends, Twitter followers or what have you, may have the same access as another individual connected more closely and will be privy to the same information.
If an individual posted information about another individual that is untrue, or posed fraudulently as an individual and posted information about them that is untrue, one’s close friends may be able to separate truth from falsehood but perhaps not every social media contact could. Therein lies the danger of social media. It is difficult to put a lid back on Pandora’s box.
It might be an innocuous comment, it might be an untrue declaration of support for a political party and it might be something more disgusting and dangerous as in the example of Jeremiah Barber and Raymond Bryce. Once it has been made, it cannot be unmade. Friends should be careful to not conduct their acrimonious displays of disharmony on social media because the damage is permanent and there is always a record.
You may delete a post in a minute, an hour, a day or a week after it was first posted but it can still be retrieved and it can be used to show wrongdoing. If you have cause to dislike a friend or a desire to embarass them, think first about the implications before you go to social media sites, as the courts have indicated that whilst social media may be new, they [the courts] are not afraid to apply existing legislation to new phenomenon.
Resource used for this article: Kerry Ashdown, ‘Facebook post cost Stafford man £3,000’ Staffordshire Newsletter (Stafford, August 25 2011, 5)