Like on Facebook? It can be defamation!

Fabrizio Corona

Partner, e-lawyers

How many times have we liked comments that, in fact, we have not read or have read superficially? This gesture, for seven municipal employees can cost a conviction for defamation. On November 1st, in fact, the process that sees them involved for putting a “like” on a facebook post that is considered offensive will begin.

The triggering event took place in 2014 when an unpleasant comment appeared on the famous social network against the then First Citizen of the Municipality of San Pietro Vernotico, in the province of Brindisi and some employees accused of being slackers and absentees. The deputy prosecutor of the Brindisi prosecutor’s office set up the hypothesis of aggravated defamation not only against the author who made the post, but also towards readers who, appreciating the comment, clicked the “like” on the post.

This case, the first in Italy, raises many perplexities. Prof. Fulvio Sarzana di Sant’Ippolito affirmed that for the existence of a crime willful misconduct is necessary, a specific will that, in a gesture like that of the “like”, is missing. On the contrary, it was the Court of Zurich which, for the first time, sentenced a person to pay fourteen thousand francs for having clicked on the famous thumb up. The Court, in its decision, argued that the conviction for defamation exists when the declaration of approval concerns offensive statements and contributes to spreading unproven accusations.

But what is a like? In the digital society, liking can be all or nothing. Interesting, in this regard, is the article published on the site, entitled “The 12 shades of like on facebook”, which lists 12 different ways to identify a “like”. The same, according to the article, could be used for political, careerist, underhanded or exchange purposes.

It should also be considered that the like takes on different meanings also depending on the social network used. In Facebook it is generally used to appreciate what is written in a post. On LinkedIn, however, the like takes on the meaning of “recommend”, without specifying whether the advice is to appreciate or denigrate the content posted.

To better understand the phenomenon, I like to relate the digital case to one of real life. Let’s imagine we witness a public defamation of a subject on the street and, instead of disinterested in it, we start laughing or applauding at the scene. Would you have been indicted on charges of defamation? I leave the evaluations to you…

Contributing Advisors

Domenico Operetto

Counsel, e-lawyers