Great news for creators of social media: the threat of libel has dropped again.
Users of social media “read” its content in a casual way and did not pause to reflect. This new ruling of the Supreme Court says that dictionary definitions of words and elaborate analysis cannot be applied to social media.
A new class of reader
“The advent of the 21st century had brought with it a new class of reader: the social media reader… how a Facebook post or a tweet on Twitter would be interpreted by a social media user had to keep in mind the way in which such postings and tweets are made and read,” the official report of the ruling says.
Impressionistic and fleeting reaction to social media
“People scrolled through Facebook quickly and did not pause to reflect…Their reaction to the post was impressionistic and fleeting.”
What a word or phrase means on paper is now different from what it means on social media.
Courts have a duty to “step aside from a lawyerly analysis and to inhabit the world of a typical reader of a Facebook post.”
And for “Facebook” read all social media.
The case which drew these insights from the Supreme Court was about a man was said by his wife to have attempted to “strangle” her. He sued for libel on the grounds that “Strangle” means he attempted to kill her. The Oxford Concise Dictionary says “strangle” means “throttle, kill by external compression of the throat.” But the ordinary reader of social media does not have a dictionary at their elbow, only their fleeting impression of what words mean.
He failed to prove that he was accused of trying to kill her.