Man convicted over Facebook ‘likes’ in defamation case

"Thumbs up": the classic symbol for a Facebook "like" AFP

​​​​​​​In a landmark trial, a Swiss man has received a two-year suspended sentence and a CHF4,000 ($4,000) fine in a defamation case which involved him “liking” Facebook posts that accused an animal rights activist of racism and anti-Semitism. 

This content was published on May 30, 2017 - 11:38 and agencies/sb

On Monday, a Zurich district courtExternal link found the 45-year-old defendant guilty of defamation. The Zurich man had accused Erwin Kessler, the president of the animal protection organisation “Verein gegen TierfabrikenExternal link” and his association online of racism and anti-Semitism. 

The defendant had also liked six Facebook posts from other people that contained the inflammatory content, also commenting on and linking to several of the posts. 

The comments were made in 2015 during discussions on various Facebook groups about which animal welfare groups should be allowed to take part in a large vegan street festival, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper reported.

The court said the inflammatory Facebook posts were unjustifiable. According to Judge Catherine Gerwig, such defamatory statements on the social media network violated Kessler’s honour. 

By clicking on a Facebook “Like” button, the defendant was endorsing the defamatory content and making it his own, the court saidExternal link.

The act of “liking” content on Facebook spreads it more widely across the site and makes it available to a greater number of people, it went on.

The court added that the defendant could not prove that the offending statements about Kessler and his organisation were true or that he had good reason to believe them to be true. The defendant’s lawyer had argued that Kessler had himself been convicted of racial discrimination in the past. 

The defendant can still appeal the decision to Zurich’s cantonal court.

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