Defamation seems to be the buzz word of the moment.

I’ve had more enquiries from clients about things that have been written and said about them (mostly on social media) over the past three months than I probably had in the whole of the previous three years.

It may be that this is yet another symptom of the lockdown.  We all have far too much time on our hands, and so are spending it reading and writing more, and are therefore simultaneously saying things about others that they don’t like, and having things said about us that we don’t like.

I can even add myself to that list.  Just this morning I received a notification from Facebook that someone had invited me to an event being hosted by a group that focused on fat loss in women.  You may say that they weren’t actually saying I needed to lose weight, but they wouldn’t have invited me if they thought I was skinny!  Being controversial, my first thought was whether any of the other “women” in the group objected to being referred to as women, if they identify as something else or at least want to keep their options open.  It is really saying something about the world when being called fat is not necessarily the biggest insult a “woman” can receive.

Although many of the people who consult me have some justification for being upset about what has been said about them, that does not automatically lead to a good claim.

For example, if what is being said about that person is true, or largely true, then you can’t really complain.  Defamation is about people saying untrue things about you.  The courts are not there to referee a children’s slanging match.  If someone says that you don’t pay your bills on time, don’t be surprised if a judge has no sympathy if that turns out to be true.  Also, don’t be surprised if your solicitor insists on funds on account throughout the case for the same reason!

Even if you can show that what is being said against you isn’t true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a court will take your side.  The classic defence to a defamation case is that the person saying it honestly and genuinely believed it to be true.  So whilst I don’t think I’m fat, if the person that invited me to the event thought I could do with losing a few pounds, then she hasn’t defamed me.  She’s just insulted me and probably lost herself a client, but that’s just bad business, not defamation.

Most importantly, remember that in the same way that violence begets violence, publicity begets publicity.  Put another way, the more you complain about what someone has said about you, the more publicity you are creating for that statement and the more people are going to read it.  So, going on Twitter to complain about what awful thing someone said about you and how you are going to take them to Court over it, is probably going to do your case more harm than good.  You can’t complain that their statement has caused you damage because of the number of people who have read it, if you are the main reason why a large number of people of read that statement.  If you really are worried about reputation, then the less attention the statement gets, the better.

Of course, if you still think that you want to take action, start with something low key.  A cease and desist letter is a private way of telling the person that you don’t appreciate their behaviour towards you, and if it continues, you reserve your right to ask a Judge what they think.  An order from the court, whilst not cheap, can be an effective way of preventing the person continuing to repeat their untrue statements and making them pay for any damage that they have done to you so far.  However, as such proceedings are often public (unless you are rich and famous and can persuade the court to give you a super gagging order!) the costs of such court action are probably the least of your worries.

In my experience a dignified silence is the best defence.  Trolls rarely enjoy a one sided fight, and will usually slink off to argue with someone who is going to retaliate, leaving you in peace to do something more worthwhile, like go to the pub or have a holiday……..!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  We know when to keep quiet.