Swiss Court says a Facebook "like" can be defamatory

Judith Thompson

In a recent defamation case heard in Switzerland, a defendant was fined 4,000 Swiss francs for adding a Facebook "like" to libellous comments which had been made about an animal rights activist.

The original Facebook comments dated back to 2015, and led to several convictions when the comments were posted. It is thought that this is the fist ever case where someone has been found guilty of defamation, when they have not published words, but simply endorsed and shown their agreement with words posted by another person.

The key to finding the defendant guilty in the Swiss case, was because by adding a "like" to the libellous comments, those comments then appeared in the news feed of the defendant's Facebook friends. The judge found that the act of adding the "like", caused fresh damage to the reputation of the animal rights activist who had originally been defamed.

The judge said that adding a "like" to comments showed that the defendant was in agreement with the libellous statements, and "made it his own". As as consequence, the defendant's actions had harmed the claimant's reputation.

Judith Thompson, a partner in Samuels Solicitors and a specialist defamation lawyer, says: "This Swiss precedent set in this case does not have to be followed by our judges in the English Courts. However, it is quite possible that if a particular set of circumstances in an English case mirror this Swiss case, that an English judge would be invited to follow it. It would be open to an English judge to take the same view as the Swiss judge, but much will depend on the circumstances of the case. It is however an extraordinary decision, and one which should make people think twice about what they "like" on Facebook and endorse on other social media platforms, particularly at a time when the government has indicated its committment to tackling online hate speech".

Samuels Solicitors, based in Devon, has a specialist defamation practice, dealing with all types of libel and slander claims, arising from social media, television and radio broadcasts and the printed word. If a defamation case has good prospects of success, we can act under the terms of a conditional (no win no fee) agreement.

If you have been the victim of libel or slander, contact us today to find out how we can help.