Plaintiff Awarded $25,000 for Facebook Defamation

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld $25,000 in damages for a Facebook defamation case-involving Plaintiff, Stephen Laughland, and Defendant, John Beckett.
In 2010 a friend brought a fake Facebook account to Laughland’s attention. The page included Laughland’s full name and an actual picture. The content of the page was extremely negative with posts allegedly by Laughland claiming to be corrupt, a “preying swindler,” a bank manipulator, and someone who owes a serious debt to society. After hiring an attorney, it was determined that the account creator was Laughland’s ex-girlfriends’ boyfriend, Beckett. A suit for defamation was later filled in 2012.
Beckett argued that Laughland was time-barred in filing the suit and that all his statements were true based off of public foreclosure and bankruptcy records that he had obtained regarding Laughland. Beckett testified that he was trying to protect consumers from financial harm that could be caused by Laughland. The appeals court did not buy this excuse and awarded Laughland $10,000 in punitive damages and $15,000 in general damages. The Court of Appeals ruled the financial comments about Laughland were based on mere speculation about the meaning of bankruptcy and were not true. Truth is an affirmative defense to defamation meaning you cannot be sued for telling the truth.
The lesson in the end is social media’s popularity creates more opportunities to defame and creates a passage to defamation lawsuits. “Whether it’s a disparaging blog post, Facebook status update, or YouTube video, online defamation is treated the same way as more traditional forms…you can be sued for any defamatory statements you post online.”
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