Why risk defamation lawsuits from Facebook postings when 9-1-1 calls are free?
Recent allegations of abuse against a Badger State kennel by a pet owner-patron on Facebook highlights the increased risks of legal liability from social media participation. I regularly use FB to advertise abused and abandoned dogs and cats available for adoption before date certain-exterminations; have shared custody of many as pets continuously over the past eight years; and am in the early stages of launching the DeVine Animal Adoption Network.
But never until yesterday had I encountered explicit allegations on social media purporting to identify an alleged abuser until yesterday, at least with respect to alleged non-human victims(Recently separated husbands, wives and non-married, formerly romantic partners are another story).
Significantly, the purported attorney for the kennel posted a refutation.
Seeing that back-and-forth on Facebook reminded of my representation of a politician in a libel lawsuit back in the 1990s against a local Southern newspaper that had published a story that repeated scurrilous accusations made against my client by a political opponent. Being a candidate, and thus defined as a “public figure” under the Supreme Court precedent of New York Times v. Sullivan, the prohibitive “actual malice” burden of proof resulted in a directed verdict in favor of the newspaper. The actual malice standard essentially requires that a plaintiff prove that the defendant-publisher accused of libel (or a non-publisher accused of slanderous oral statements) knew that the allegations were NOT true. It is nearly always impossible to prove a negative.
Ordinarily, private businesses such as kennels are NOT public figures, so it is even more prudent that one be circumspect when contemplating widely disseminating accusations of wrongdoing meant to sully the alleged perpetrator’s reputation and/or encourage boycotts. Truth is an absolute defense, but absent a reliable eyewitness to the alleged abuse or neglect, why risk a lawsuit against oneself when most states, including Wisconsin, provide for criminal charges and civil remedies to prevent (and punish) cruelty to animals?
Before, or instead of, posting possible defamatory allegations on social media sites, we think it prudent to call the police or a lawyer.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson