The Court of Appeal has recently confirmed in the case of Stocker v Stocker that postings on a Facebook wall constituted actionable libels, despite the fact that they were visible only to Facebook friends.
The point arose following an acrimonious divorce. For reasons that are unclear, the former wife, Mrs Stocker, asked to be a Facebook friend of her former husband's new partner, Ms Bligh. Ms Bligh accepted the friend request.
A few weeks later, there was an exchange on Ms Bligh's Facebook wall between her and Mrs Stocker, in the course of which Mrs Stocker made a number of disobliging remarks about her former husband.
He then sued his former wife in libel. Mrs Stocker sought to argue that, because it was within Ms Bligh's control (by way of the privacy settings) who would see comments posted on her wall, Mrs Stocker should not be legally liable for the fact that her comments were seen by all Ms Bligh's Facebook friends. However, this line of argument did not persuade the Court.
Lady Justice Sharp was clear that, in posting the defamatory statements on the wall of her new Facebook friend, Mrs Stocker had, for the purposes of defamation law, published them to all Ms Bligh's other Facebook friends. Legally, it was no different from pinning a message to a physical noticeboard where it could be read by a number of people, for example in a workplace.
The case is a useful reminder that the law of defamation applies online just as much as it does in the offline world.