Defamation on a forum: tolerance of overstated comments from an individual

Civil Law

Source: order of the referee of the High Court of Paris dated June 24th 2015, available on the website « legalis.net »

An individual had acquired a second-hand vehicle from a mandatory society. After complete payment of the price, the vehicle was never delivered. Therefore the web user, who thought he had been swindled, published five aggressive comments on a discussion forum, which accused the seller to publish false positive comments towards her, to produce false documents and to be dishonest.

The Court considers for certain comments, that the defamatory nature is established, as it concerns a specific fact, which can be the subject to debate about the proof of its truth and which offends the honor and the consideration of the legal person.

The Court reminds that «The defamatory charges are, by law, made with the intention to harm, but they can be justified when the author establishes his good faith, by proving that he had a legitimate purpose, out of personal animosity, and that he complied with a certain number of requirements, in particular the seriousness of the investigation, as well as the cautiousness in the wording, providing that the good faith cannot be inferred from facts that happened after the diffusion of the comments».

The Court also adds that «These elements can be appreciated differently according to the type of writing concerned and the status of the person who expressed himself and, especially, with a lesser level of rigor when the author of the defamatory comments is not a journalist, whose profession is to inform, but a person actually involved in the facts on which she comments».

In this case, the denunciation of abusive commercial practices is a legitimate purpose and the personal animosity of the web user is not established, being reminded that a personal animosity has a motive hidden to the reader, meanwhile in the present case the respondent is interfering following a commercial dispute.

The Court states that, if the charge to have published a false positive comment as a client was not made with a real cautiousness in the wording, the web user is not a journalist but an individual involved, «which allows to tolerate a certain amount of overstatement in the wording».

The web user is therefore condemned to repair the moral prejudice of the society, by paying an amount of one euro, for public defamation towards an individual.

The decision reminds that the defamation is not judged with the same rigor, whether the person who expresses herself is an amateur or a journalist.