Can you sue social media if you’ve been unfairly shamed?

Sep. 9, 2021 By Andrew Miltenberg

To be shamed or called out on social media platforms is an alarmingly common experience today. On college campuses, this can be the weapon of choice for community members who feel they’re being treated unfairly or face discrimination. Social media can also be used to allege sexual harassment or misconduct. Despite legal protections granted to internet companies, an experienced attorney can find ways to help, says Andrew T. Miltenberg, Esq.

“In many ways, students or activists are using social media platforms to do what the school may not be able to do, which is effectively expel someone from the university,” says Miltenberg. This tactic can ruin the reputation of students, and their ability to function on the campus, regardless of whether the school takes any disciplinary action.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) is currently the law, says Miltenberg. “It goes back to 1996,” says Miltenberg, “before anybody really had a sense of how omnipresent, and in many ways omnipotent, social media would become.” This section states that if a social media platform is merely allowing someone to post something, as opposed to creating or editing what’s posted, it cannot be sued. This approach has led to numerous public arguments over censorship and misinformation online – and Miltenberg predicts it will continue to be a hot issue.

“If someone posts something about you on social media, you cannot sue the social media company unless they altered it or had a hand in creating it,” says Miltenberg. However, there is an opportunity to take legal action if the post was changed in any way by the company. For example, the social media platform can be sued if the grammar of the text was edited.

If a social platform allows users to make allegations anonymously, another strategy that Miltenberg might use is to sue the company for the identity of the person responsible. These companies are very protective of the identities of those posting on the platform, says Miltenberg. Rather than releasing information about the poster, companies may then remove the posts, primarily because the companies don’t want to give up anonymous information.

Attorneys can also find ways to protect the privacy of students who are targets of social media shaming, says Miltenberg. For example, there are legal means to force internet companies to take down posts and not accept future posts on the subject. Individuals can be sued for defamation of character. Furthermore, if social media campaigns include revenge porn, or can be proved to be inaccurate, an experienced attorney can help.

If students or their families are being publicly shamed with allegations of sexual misconduct on social media, they should contact a skilled attorney right away. Utilizing a variety of legal strategies, companies can be forced to take down social media posts, individuals creating the posts can be sued to stop their Internet activities, and those posting anonymously can be identified and stopped.

To learn more, contact Andrew T. Miltenberg, Esq., of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP today.