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Facebook postings land ex-wife in court

The case of Stocker v Stocker in the Court of Appeal recently, highlights the repercussions of careless Facebook posts.

Ronald Stocker and his wife Nicola had been married for 13 years before they went through a hostile divorce in 2012.

Ronald entered a new relationship with Deborah Bligh. Ms Bligh accepted a Facebook friend request from Nicola Stocker.

Shortly afterwards, on 23 December 2012, Ms Bligh posted a status on her Facebook page commenting that she couldn’t wait to wake up on Christmas Day with her man and his son.

That status update led Mrs Stocker to add a comment and there then followed an exchange of postings during which Mrs Stocker made a series of remarks about her former husband, including allegations of domestic violence.

Mr Stocker sued his former wife for libel due to the fact that her comments were made publicly.
In her defence, Mrs Stocker said that she knew that the comments she had made on Ms Bligh’s initial post were public. However, she said that she believed that her subsequent comments to Ms Blige were in fact private as they appeared in a different format and the second post by Ms Bligh had addressed her directly.

The judge did not accept this and rejected this part of the evidence.

Mrs Stocker also argued that Ms Bligh had control of the privacy settings on her Facebook account and therefore could control who could see the postings on her page.

The judge, Lady Justice Sharp, ruled that posting the defamatory statements on Ms Bligh’s Facebook page had, within the meaning of defamation law, published them to all Ms Bligh’s Facebook friends, which was legally no different to pinning a message on a noticeboard at work where it could be read by any number of people.

Don Bird, senior partner at Atherton Godfrey, commented on the case: “There must be a balance between the right to reputation and the right to freedom of expression. This must consider the rights of those whose reputation may be damaged by the careless broadcasting of such serious allegations; something that is so easily done via the internet.”

Mr Stocker waived his right to receive damages. The judge said that had he not done so, he would been have awarded damages of £5,000.

Author: Gail Harris

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