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Forward Ever?

By Posted on 4 6 m read 1.3K views

Words have the power not only to hurt a person’s emotions but to tarnish their reputation for life or for a time shorter than life… but you get the point. This is why the tort/crime of defamation is a big deal.

Defamation is essentially a communication or an expression of information about a person that is untrue and that is intended to negatively influence the reputation of such a person in the eyes of right-thinking members of the community.

Defamation can be super tricky so you have to carefully adjudge a statement before declaring it as defamation. In the next paragraph, we’re going to have a bit of fun because I will draft a communication and we’ll analyse it together to determine parts of it that count as defamation (in this case, Libel, since it is written) and parts that do not qualify as such.  N.B. The characters in this example are purely fictional and do not refer to anyone living or dead. Any similarities simply reveal the humdrum recycling predictive boring nature of life. Let’s go!

WHAT THE WORLD SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MRS. IJEOMA TALOMOMI KUDIRAT

Where do I begin? I see a lot of people cheer Mrs. Ijeoma Talomomi Kudirat (ITK, going forward). They write lofty things about her; things that when I read, I want to wash my eyes with rain water just to be sure I’m not dreaming. Kind? Benevolent? Gentle and welcoming? Where do people get their information from?

At some point, I decided that I was going to ignore every Facebook post, twitter tweet, newspaper publication and even bus gist about this woman; that I would mind my business and allow the world deceive itself. But I can’t. My passion is ‘liberating people through the truth’ and that is what I intend to do with this post.

Therefore, here are 5 things you must know about ITK:

  1. ITK was recently charged and convicted for Money-laundering. I won’t go into details about this because I know that all these local champion keyboard investigators will come for me and say things like ‘if she was, we’d know yen yen yen’. I have said what I have said.
  2. Last week, ITK attended a gay wedding in Lagos, Nigeria. She even gave a toast. According to her, “I am so happy to see the union of these two men irrespective of the hostility of the nation against such love”
  3. ITK is in serious DEBT! Good Lord! You guys would not understand the level of poverty this woman is in. All those clothes she wears? They are taken on credit. Those houses she flaunts? They are not hers…  Don’t be fooled
  4. ITK’s son is mentally unsound – that’s why she does not put his picture out. He’s locked up in an asylum far away in Katsina state.
  5. ITK has gonorrhoea from her promiscuous lifestyle.

This is where I stop. This, is where I drop my pen in a boat and allow it float on the river of liberation. I hope you’re on that boat too.

Back to reality. Hope you enjoyed my rant.

Now, let us examine each of the points above.

Point ‘a’: If truly, ITK was convicted for the crime as described, then as bad as it for her image, it does not qualify as libel.

Point ‘b’: I made this point to help drive home the point that something that can be libellous in a particular society or to a particular group or class of people, might not be to others. If this communication was published to a more ‘liberal’ group of people (say, most citizens of the United States of America) then it would not be considered libellous. In fact, it would be considered praise-worthy. However, if this statement was made to a more conservative and traditional group (e.g most Nigerians), and if it is not a true statement, it will be damning to her reputation.

Point ‘c’: As you already know, if this is not true, then it’s libellous.

Point ‘d’: is libellous only concerning the son and only if it is untrue

Point ‘e’: If untrue, then libellous.

However, every statement I have noted to be libellous is not until the maker of the statement actually publishes it. If it sits in his drafts and maybe it is leaked, it does not typically count as defamation. If the statements were made about you (say in a person’s diary), you will not have a cause of action against such a person for defamation if you were snooping around.

So you get the point now. Or so I believe.

Now it’s important to note that if you *republish* a defamatory statement, you are as guilty as the original maker of the statement. This holds sway in Nigeria and in many other jurisdictions. That is if someone makes a defamatory statement and you further help convey that, you (in many jurisdictions) will incur the same liability as the original publisher would.

Knowing this, the next question that naturally comes to my mind is: what does this mean in the internet age? What happens when I forward a defamatory message sent to me, to other people? In times like this when publication is as simple as clicking a ‘forward’ button or using a ‘copy and paste’ function, what’s the stance of the law and courts?

Candidly, the answer to this question varies by jurisdiction so I’ll focus on Nigeria.

In Nigeria, defamation can either be treated as a civil wrong or as a crime (see Section 373 of the Criminal Code). There really isn’t any provision specifically addresses republication especially with regard to new age tech and the internet. The stance also varies a lot in different states in the world. For instance, in the USA, Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act actually provides immunity for users and providers of ‘interactive computer service’ from being liable for information provided by others.

While I’m honestly not eager to see Nigeria codify something on this topic (let’s just say I don’t really trust the nation, her policies and practices to do right by netizens in any scenario), I would, however, believe that liability for republication by a computer system or product should depend on whether further affirmation, credence or an overt show of support and endorsement is given to the statement by the republisher. This is because internet infrastructure such as social media platforms have made it so much easier to repost or republish content of all forms. On the part of the state or defamed individuals, it would not be sustainable to seek redress or justice against EVERYONE who republishes defamatory content. It might, however, be easier to do that against anyone who contributes to the content of the already existing publication – adding support to the defamation. This is especially because the mental requirement for the commission of the crime of defamation is ‘knowing’ that what you’re doing is defamatory in itself. Hence, a little bit of support or accord with the defamatory statement will also help to establish this.

But most importantly, I believe that ICT platforms – especially pubic content sharing platforms such as social media should be intentional about warning against defamatory acts in their policies. Be responsible enough to educate platform users on the dangers of defamation; be responsible enough to make it a policy stance and community rule for your platform; be responsible enough to create proper protocol for the reporting and redress of same if it occurs. Because the truth remains (and is becoming much more glaring), that social media and virtual platforms are gaining more solidified roles as governors over people (users) than the government is. (*in the voice of Imagine Dragons* WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE!) And so it is probably much easier and more realistic for issues such as this to be sorted by the tech companies than by states ( and think about it: many of the parties to the dispute might even be in completely different jurisdictions). I’m stressed just thinking of arising conflict of laws issues.

It’s an interesting time for international law and internet governance and it’s going to get even more exciting. I’m here for this. I’m here to influence the ebb of policies. So here for this!

Meanwhile, let me know what you think! And kindly share!

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4 Comments
  • David Rotimi
    March 12, 2019

    Defamation just uses to be a word to me, but wow! it’s such a deep thing. Thank you for always making it simple. I think we have a long way to go in this country, I hope you’ll be able to help in the government one of these days. God safe us in Nigeria.

  • Goodness Omogbadegun
    March 13, 2019

    I never realized how much of a serious
    damage defamation could cause, especially through social media platforms. Thanks Adeboro for this enlightening piece.

  • Rilwan Shittu
    July 6, 2019

    This is one of my favorite posts here. Though I’m no stranger to the concept of defamation, I feel like I just re-learned everything all over again, except this time in much simpler language and without the usual verbose language lawyers and legal writers use.

    I’m happy someone is finally speaking about defamation in this age of the internet and social media. It is often just glossed over like it is not a legitimate concern but I think about it a lot, and I look forward to see the Nigerian government’s approach to shaping policy and defamation laws around this (if that ever happens).

    I agree that a lot of education needs to be done in this regard, especially in more creative and deliberate ways.

    Well done!

    10/10 will recommend.

    • Adeboro Odunlami
      July 7, 2019

      Thanks Rilwan!!

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