Swiss man fined for defamatory Facebook 'Like'

A Zurich judge ruled that the act of 'Liking' a post accusing someone of racism was grounds for defamation

Swiss man fined for defamatory Facebook 'Like'

[NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images]

A 45-year-old man in Zurich has been found by the courts to have defamed a man accused of being a racist and anti-Semite by liking a number of accusatory posts on Facebook.

The offending ‘likes’ date from 2015 when the defendant, not identified by the courts, endorsed several Facebook posts produced by animal rights groups. The posts claimed that Erwin Kessler, the president of the animal welfare association Vereins gegen Tierfabriken, is a racist, anti-Semite, and fascist.

Kessler filed a case against the Zurich man, his legal team arguing that the act of ‘liking’ the posts attacking Kessler distributed the messages to a larger audience and that the 45-year-old had acted with intent to harm Kessler’s reputation and without justifiable cause.

During the trial, the defendant also stated on the record that he had wanted to promote and disseminate the posts when he ‘Liked’ them, reported Swiss paper Tages Anzeiger.

Zurich judge Catherine Gerwig said the court had two questions to answer: if the posts are untrue, did the likes meet the standard of libel or slander? And, can a person be fined for defamation not for originating the offensive material, but rather circulating it by a like?

The court ruled that the defendant was unable to prove that Kessler was an anti-Semite, racist, or fascist, despite the fact he had been sentenced for a racial discrimination charge in 1998. But two decades later, there was no evidence to support this claim.

The judge also determined that clicking on Like is a decisive act, a positive statement that the defendant showed support for the content and essentially made it his own.

The 45-year-old Zurich man was handed a suspended fine in the case.

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