Man convicted over Facebook 'likes' in defamation case

A Swiss man who "liked" several Facebook posts that included accusations that a man was racist and anti-Semitic has been convicted of defamation.

The landmark case involved comments made about Erwin Kessler, the head of an animal protection group.

Judge Catherine Gerwig said during the trial on Monday (29 May) that by "liking" the offensive posts the defendant was "spreading a value judgement" about the victim.

The posts came about during discussions on the social media website over which animal welfare groups should be allowed to take part in a large vegan street festival, Veganmania Schweiz.

Kessler sued more than a dozen people who were involved in the exchange, the Guardian reports, but a lot of them had actually written and posted comments.

She said a "like" was associated with a positive, meaning he clearly supported the posts' content.

The court in Zurich sentenced the 45-year-old man and ordered him to pay a fine of 4 thousand francs ($4.1 thousand).

The court ruled that the defendant could not prove that the statements about Mr Kessler were true or that he had "serious reasons" to believe them to be so.

Though it's clear that things you post on Facebook can absolutely construe defamation, this is the first time that chucking a like onto a post has been seen as endorsing and therefore repeating a defamatory statement.

It turns out that Kessler actually was convicted under an anti-racism law some 20 years ago, so the slanderers didn't technically make entirely unfounded insults.

His actions should thus be considered as an "affront to [Kessler's] honour", it added.

The verdict can be appealed, but Abdelaziz said he was not sure the defendant would devote the time and resources needed to do so, pointing out that a number of the other people Kessler had sued had chosen not to fight the cases in court.

"If the courts want to prosecute people for likes on Facebook, we could easily need to triple the number of judges in this country", he said. If, for instance, there's an accident, then it also means expressing sympathy.

  • Leroy Wright