Australia based Leah Madden posted a string of vexation packed statuses when, what she thought was a swimsuit collection designed by her published on a magazine cover while being credited to arch rival, Seafolly. Matters took a turn for the worst when Seafolly validated the swimsuit collection’s authenticity and Madden was left to bite the dust with a hefty defamation fine. Twist in the tale – the frustrated Facebook statuses were on her personal account and not her company White Sands’.
Federal Court opined that whilst Madden’s statements were earmarked towards a limited audience; comments received on it verified its (the status’) influence on the readers.
To cover up for the frailty of senile defamation laws, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) defined basic guidelines for social media thereon. For instance, a company can be held accountable for negative and untrue comments on its Facebook page posted by a fan about a competitor’s product; especially if it knows the comments are incorrect still leaves them up.
The curious case of defamation on social media
AIB Knockout episode encapsulated social defamation situation in India. One, content owners sported a disclaimer then why the case against them? Two, nature of the medium made traditional laws redundant; three, no existing legal right or wrong were in line with the reality.
Harshil Karia, Managing Director, Schbang opines that there needs to be guidelines about slander across social media. “Lawyers are interpreting defamation lawsuits differently. We need something which is more consistent, fast and stringent.”
Definition of defamation got considerably ambiguous with social media evolving into a universe in itself. According to Slater and Gordon, 50 per cent of total defamation queries received by the law firm were in reference to content posted on social media.
Grey of defamation on social media resurfaced, when a grieved Tata Docomo user got hands on the CEO’s contact details and begun tweeting it out to fellow distressed consumers. The privacy invasion however, wasn’t dealt with, by Twitter as the tweets didn’t hold any of the hate words restricted by the microblogging giant. Existing defamation laws too proved to be redundant in this case.
“Character assassination and defamation need to be regulated online,” expresses Sabyasachi Mitter, Managing Director, Ibs. “Sometimes political conversations get downright nasty, but nothing is done about it. At the same time, it’s a two way street. Malicious intent has to be dealt with. Something like banning porn isn’t required.”
Unchecked world of laws and social media
Acts such as cyber bullying, misleading marketing and copyright violation across social media have been unattended to.
Australia once again leads as an example here. Australian Senate passed an Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill in 2014. The law compels social networks to de-house content aimed at bullying of children.
On similar lines, BFSI brands in UK comply with series of social media regulations including risk warning statements in their digital communications and maintaining a record of all communication around the brand across social networks. While there has been a similar set of laws in India, they stand to be subjective.
Ownership & responsibility
Social media is posed with threats daily, which stand to lack of consequences in the absence of regulations, ownership of content and a sense of responsibility.
Kapil Sibal suggested screening social content in his hay days; while the anarchical move was criticised, no required regulation followed the incident.
If not new laws, fine tuning of existing laws to get them in line with the dynamism and reality of social media could serve some good. Maybe not at a government level but at organisation levels.
A viable method?
In an instance shared by Mitter: Reuters offers strict license period, after the expiration of which carrying content owned by them counts as a felony. This summed up to a major issue for Ibs, as content shared across social media is defined by no timelines. A piece of Reuters content can be re-tweeted 6 months after it was shared by the agency; much beyond the license expiration date. Copyright laws in such situations boil down to futile.
As a solution, Reuters amended its contract to suit nature and requirement of social media platforms. An individual solution; however, when applied by all can turn into a norm for the industry. Could this be a viable solution?