Social Media Defamation in Virginia

Facebook, the largest social media network in the world, published about thirty-one million messages and posts per minute in 2015. Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin boast smaller numbers, but not by much. As social networks have expanded, so have the cases in which plaintiffs have successfully recovered damages for defamatory statements made on social media sites. Cases like Courtney Love’s have even created new terms of art in defamation, like ‘Twibel,’ which means a libelous statement made on the Twitter platform. The important thing to remember about social media defamation is that there are no special legal rules for social media postings. However, there are often special considerations for measuring damages caused by defamatory social media posts.   The Law of Social Media Defamation The standard for whether a statement is defamatory in Virginia is the same for social media posts as by any other method of publication. To support a defamation action, Virginia requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant issued: a publication about the plaintiff containing an actionable statement with the requisite intent. Fleming v. Moore, 221 Va. 884, 275 S.E.2d 632 (1981). (Note: This is a simplified version of the law of defamation in Virginia). Whether the statement was made on an e-mail listserv, by handwritten letter, or by P.A. system, the basic requirements for defamation are the same. Contrary to what some defendants might believe, statements made on social media are no less “serious” than defamatory statements that are published by media outlets.   Measuring Damages in Social Media Cases The normal rules of defamation law apply to social media posts, but there are special...