We’ve all heard the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. Words have the potential to sway millions, but they also have the potential to inflict great damage. And while the First Amendment protects free speech, it is not a suit of armor against all speech, especially false statements.
Our firm just resolved a contentious defamation case concerning false posts and accusations on Facebook made about our client, Davyne Dial. On February 8, 2017, the Court signed a Consent Judgment in our client’s favor for total damages of $500,000, including $250,000 in punitive damages. The defendant also acknowledged in writing that the Facebook posts at issue were false and malicious.
In a copyrighted article by John Boyle in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Wake Forest University law professor Michael D. Green said he was “stunned” and “astonished” by the amount of the Consent Judgment. You can also review WLOS's reporting on the matter here.
People posting comments on social media seem to think that they are either anonymous or that the defamation laws do not apply to social media. That’s a serious mistake, as our defendant ultimately learned. And while some of the social media outlets, such as Twitter, are attempting to address conduct that ranges from abusive to libelous, this case shows that redress can be found in the courts.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Asheville, North Carolina, establishes that false posts and accusations on social media do have serious consequences. And while every case must be judged on its own merits, and the judgment in the Dial case is not indicative of the value of other cases, the result also shows that victims of smear campaigns are not without recourse. So while it may be tempting to wield the pen as you might a sword, the Courts are ultimately going to determine whether those words are protected speech.