Swiss court rules defamatory Facebook likes ‘can be illegal’

Swiss court rules defamatory Facebook likes ‘can be illegal’
Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash
The Swiss Federal Court has ruled that Facebook likes and shares can be considered as illegal defamation.

The case was hearing a matter from the canton of Zurich says people can in some cases be punished for sharing or liking particular posts on social media, even if they did not create the content themselves. 

The case related to a dispute between animal rights activists from 2015. The perpetrator had liked and shared several posts critical of fellow animal rights activist Erwin Kessler. 

In groups like ‘Vegan in Zurich’ and ‘Indyvegan’, the perpetrator had liked and shared posts which portrayed as a neo-Nazi who harboured anti-Semitic ideas. 

The Zurich court fined the perpetrator saying the social media actions amounted to defamation. The Federal Court on Thursday upheld the verdict. 

While issues related to defamation are relatively unclear on social media – as opposed to through traditional media sources – the court held that the potential for such remarks to go ‘viral’ meant that social media actions could be defamatory in nature. 

Swiss defamation law only requires that an act be communicated to a third party in order for it to be defamatory, with online communication reaching the relevant threshold. 

The court said that it would depend on the circumstances as to whether likes and shares were likely to breach defamation laws, however a major factor was how visible the post was to others outside the immediate friend networks of the person defamed. 

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