Data from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has shown the number of defamation lawsuits handled by the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court almost trebled between 2016 and 2019, rising from 112 to 323.

The sharp increase has been largely put down to social media disputes involving posts and reviews online, with people not realising that what they write on social networking sites can result in serious consequences.

The rise in popularity of social media platforms over the past two decades has given more and more people a voice online. All social media account holders are effectively publishers of their own content. However, they are not governed by the usual laws placed on traditional broadcasters and media outlets giving users the illusion they can say what they like with no repercussions.

A user can post a defamatory review for their social media network which can reach thousands of people around the world in seconds. The repercussions and problems this can cause for the business or individual at the receiving end of the review or comment can be serious and have a long-reaching impact on their reputation. For this reason, an increasing number appear to have chosen to take legal action against social media users making defamatory and damaging comments online.

Businesses are bringing claims to court after receiving defamatory reviews for products or services and individuals are bringing claims following harassment and smear campaigns online.

In 2013, The Defamation Act 2013 came into force which required those wishing to make claims for defamation to prove that the statements made against them met the serious harm threshold; businesses needed to show that they had suffered ‘serious financial loss’ as a result of the material and individuals must prove the material had caused, or was likely to cause, serious harm to their reputation. The Act was put in place to make it “harder for wealthy people or companies to bully or silence those who may have fairly criticised them or their products.”

The tighter rules that came into force with The Defamation Act 2013, did indeed reduce the number of defamation claims for a short time but that trend seems to be changing dramatically.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the number of cases continues to rise as activity on social media increased exponentially during lockdown and tensions rose with people, restricted in where they can go and what they can do, venting their frustrations online.

Farleys’ team of commercial litigation solicitors have a great deal of experience advising and acting on defamation cases of all kinds. To discuss your claim with a member of the team please call 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry through our online contact form.