Magistrate calls for education on use of social media as abuse cases mount

Pet groomer wins libel damages in case against woman who used Facebook to slander her • Court takes the opportunity to express serious concern about how social media platforms are being misused to throw mud at individuals

The woman was indicted over ‘defamatory’ use of Facebook
The woman was indicted over ‘defamatory’ use of Facebook

The courts have once again expressed serious concern at how social media platforms are being misused, calling for more education on the topic.

This emerged in a judgment by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale over a public Facebook spat between two women in a group with some 12,000 members. 

Jasmine Urry had published a post on a Facebook group about Charmaine Martin, a pet groomer. Urry was Martin's client.

Martin had needed to cease work for a time for health reasons and upon her recovery had sent a personal message to all her clients, including Urry, informing them of the fact that she was reopening for business.

Urry had replied, declining the offer due to alleged insults by Martin against PN Leader Adrian Delia.

She had then published a post on the Facebook group 'Grupp PN' featuring Martin’s personal message, a picture and commenting that Martin was in a relationship with ex PN candidate Wayne Hewitt and that she should not mix work and politics.

Upon being informed about the post, Martin had contacted the woman and asked her to take it down, but Urry had hung up and refused to take further calls. The pet groomer had then gone to the police.

Urry had also refused to go to the police station to resolve the situation when spoken to by the police.

The offending post was later removed by an administrator.

Urry's post was motivated by the fact that Hewitt had openly campaigned against the candidature of Adrian Delia and it appeared to be this that caused the anger. Urry had described them as insults against “our leader Dr Adrian Delia.”

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed that in this case Urry had chosen to publicly attack the plaintiff and make insinuations about her professional conduct and sully her reputation, “which attacks had no basis in fact and were solely dictated by the defendant’s thirst to damage and ridicule her because both the plaintiff and her partner had disagreed with Delia’s election as PN leader.”

The court once again took the opportunity to express its serious concerns about how social media platforms are being misused to throw mud at individuals.

“Unfortunately, it appears that instead of being used to bring people together, these means are being used to create even more trouble and hatred between groups and is leading to extremism in ideas and views.” This increased the risk that dangerous actions resulting from this extremism take place, “which would do no good to a democratic society, based on pluralism and the free exchange of views.” 

It is not the first time that the magistrate has made similar observations.

“It is only through respect towards each other and education in the way these means of communication are used that Malta’s democratic society will progress,” Depasquale said.

The court declared the allegations as defamatory and awarded €1,000 in damages to Martin with costs against the defendant.

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