Facebook user is found guilty of defamation for 'liking' posts

A media lawyer said the conviction should not be taken to mean that from now on, anyone "liking" posts may be at risk of ...
Reuters

A media lawyer said the conviction should not be taken to mean that from now on, anyone "liking" posts may be at risk of being prosecuted for defamation.

A Facebook user who "liked" a post accusing another man of anti-Semitism and racism has been convicted of defamation in a landmark ruling.

In the first case of its kind in Switzerland, the 45-year-old unnamed man from Zurich was found guilty after he pressed the 'like' button on several posts attacking Erwin Kessler, the president of an animal rights group.

The posts came about during discussions on the social media website over which animal welfare groups should be allowed to take part in a large vegan street festival, Veganmania Schweiz.

Posts describing Kessler as racist, anti-Semitic or fascist, and his organisation as a neo-Nazi group, were "liked" by a number of people, including the defendant.

Kessler then brought a case against the defendant, arguing that by "liking" the posts the man had spread their content by making them visible to a larger number of people.

Judge Catherine Gerwig said at the trial in Zurich this week that "liking" the posts was "spreading a value judgement", reported newspaper Tages Anzeiger.

She said a "like" was associated with a positive, meaning he clearly supported the posts' content.

The court ruled that the defendant could not prove that the statements about Kessler were true or that he had "serious reasons" to believe them to be so.

In 1998, Kessler was in fact convicted of racial discrimination in relation to his efforts to prevent the lifting of a ban on shechita, a Jewish religious method of slaughtering animals.

However, the court ruled that it did not mean he could be accused of racism without proof 19 years later, and the defendant received a suspended fine.

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Other people have also since been convicted of defaming Kessler in the Swiss cities of Zurich, Lucerne and Bern, according to the Tages Anzeiger.

Media lawyer Martin Steiger said the conviction should not be taken to mean that from now on, anyone "liking" posts may be at risk of being prosecuted for defamation.

"It always depends on what a 'like' means and what someone was aiming to achieve with it," he told the newspaper. "A 'like' doesn't always mean that someone likes the content of a post. If, for instance, there's an accident, then it also means expressing sympathy.

"Or that you find it good that someone shares something on Facebook."

Steiger said that the introduction of a wider variety of ways to react to a Facebook post - 'sad', 'wow' and 'angry' faces - did not change the inherent ambiguity of what someone meant to say with them.

"It's often unclear which option is suitable," he said.

The defendant in this case had said in court that he supported the content. The conviction was therefore "not necessarily unjustified", said Steiger.

 - The Telegraph, London

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