Most online defamation actions I encounter primarily seek one form of relief – the removal of the offending material from the Internet. Damages and costs are often a secondary concern to clients, albeit important ones, especially in offsetting the impact on the individual’s reputation and the inconvenience of litigation.
A Malaysian case this week highlights another creative remedy that might be of interest to litigants structuring an out-of-court settlement. The Daily Mail describes the case,
Fahmi Fadzil, an opposition politician’s aide and respected commentator, claimed on the social networking site [Twitter] that his pregnant friend had been poorly treated by her employers at a magazine run by Blu Inc Media.
Hours later he retracted the statement on the site, but the company’s lawyers sent him a letter demanding financial damages for defamation and an apology in major newspapers.
The case has now been settled after Fahmi agreed to use Twitter to apologise 100 times over the course of three days.
Each post reads: ‘I’ve DEFAMED Blu Inc Media and Female Magazine. My tweets on their (human resource) policies are untrue. I retract those words and hereby apologise.’
Fadzil completed the 100th tweet some time yesterday, and it was retweeted by hundreds of new followers. Twitter users tracked the story with the hash-tag “#defahmi,” and someone created a “defahminator app.”
i’mma rawkstar international worldwiiidddeee hahaha (sic)
Not everyone is so enthusiastic though. Nikki Cheong thinks the settlement terms are overkill,
Look, we get the point. He defamed you and now he needs to apologise. We don’t need to read it 100 times. The tweets go back to the same 4,300+ Twitter followers that he has no matter how many times he sends that message.
“First time witnessing a ‘community service sentence’ on Twitter
In a blog post Tock elaborated further,
Herein lies the question – Did Blu Inc, in their move to settle for a public apology in this manner, expected this to happen? Did they forget that in social media, the old rules and ancient laws does not apply? (This method is akin to punishing a child in their school days, writing a sentence a hundred times to learn their mistake. Remember Harry Potter and Dolores Umbridge?) Or could it be that they needed the coverage. In other words, was this a planned strategy to begin with?
Cheong questions how effective a Twitter apology is,
…Which brings me to reach. As compared to a newspaper, Fahmi’s Twitter numbers, while on the high side in the context of the average Malaysian Twitter, is very small.
But Tock notes the extensive media coverage the apology has garnished, and states that it had a much bigger impact than a full-page newspaper advertisement.
For Defendants a social media apology of this scope might be time-consuming, but it’s certainly less costly than purchasing a retraction in a newspaper. For Plaintiffs, they might better target the audience where the alleged defamation occurred.
Either way, we’re likely to see more of these “community service sentences” on Twitter and other social media platforms in the years to come.