WE SHOULD all click “Like” on Justice Frank Seepersad’s latest ruling.
The judge found on Monday that social media users, too, are subject to libel laws. His much-anticipated judgment clarifies what has long been a murky area. People are free to say what they like, but the line is drawn when what they say can cause harm and cannot be justified.
Seepersad’s ruling makes ongoing efforts to adopt a robust regulatory framework in relation to information communications technology more pressing. For the moment, the judge has done what the Parliament has yet to do, despite Facebook being around for more than a decade.
While we welcome Seepersad’s ruling, the harsh implications cannot be ignored.
A person will be assumed to be responsible for all that is posted on their social media account, whether or not that account has been hacked into. Such a strenuous standard places a heavy duty on all users to be vigilant about the security of their personal information and access to their accounts.
How far such vigilance can go is questionable in an age where even the election of a US president is regarded as being vulnerable to cyber manipulation.
It will be useful for clear guidance to be promulgated by the State, particularly as this is now going to be a matter of strict liability. Too stringent a standard could have a chill effect on freedom of expression itself. A balance must be struck.
There is also much room for further debate. For instance, are the levels of compensation satisfactory given the wider reach of social media? A similar question can be asked in relation to cases of revenge porn where jilted lovers have been ordered to pay compensation for seeking to harm the interests of their former partners by sharing intimate pictures.
A related matter is whether the State is doing enough to deal with the circulation of illicit videos, whether they are instances of revenge porn or more dastardly in nature.
Though it remains to be seen if an appeal will be filed and if the State will join the case as an interested party, it is high time social media users were made to face the reality of their responsibilities online.
At its most basic level, there needs to be a public education campaign about rights and responsibilities online. Furthermore, something must be done in relation to how fake news articles are handled both by social media platforms and end-users.