In this day and age of social media and digital platforms, anyone is free to express their opinions. But this comes with a price. What if the information isn’t accurate? What if someone is deliberately spreading disinformation to ruin someone’s reputation? In Singapore, the Defamation Law seeks to criminally prosecute those who make false allegations. The state enacts defamation laws to protect an individual or a group of people from untrue statements.
1. What Is Defamation?
Defamation is often interchangeable with “libel” or “slander”. It’s an act (whether spoken, written, or online) seeking to spread falsehoods. According to Singapore’s laws relating to Defamation and the Defamation Act, any medium can be a breeding ground for defamation:
- Broadcast media
- Visuals (images, infographics, signage)
- Words (gestures and other methods of conveying meaning)
The instigator can be tried in civil Courts if there is sufficient intentional defamation evidence. Court proceedings will begin, and the sentence can range anywhere from a fine to 24 months of imprisonment.
2. When Can You Be Liable For Defamation?
A person can sue another individual or entity for criminal defamation in Singapore if they share defamatory material. Defamatory material refers to any material (photos, articles, graphics, video clips, etc) meant to damage someone’s reputation using disinformation. However, three conditions must be satisfied:
- The statement in question should be libellous or defamatory
- The victim is the clear target of defamation or libel
- The statement must be published or be in public circulation. A third party must also be aware of it.
Condition 1: The Statement In Question Should Be Libellous or Defamatory
Anything is defamatory if it ruins a person’s reputation and also lowers their standing in society. The victim may be in constant fear of harassment or may even be an outcast from public activities.
For example, if an influencer has uploaded a vlog falsely accusing a public official of misappropriating funds, this can harm the latter’s reputation. This situation can even worsen if the influencer has a huge social media presence. If the victim has no resources nor means to combat fake information, then any untrue statements targeted towards them can be damaging.
Additionally, anything inferential or implicitly implied can also be considered defamation. Even if someone has not directly accused a person, but the accusation alludes to the victim, then the latter could also build a case.
What if an unsuspecting reader has shared defamatory content? What if they’ve republished the content and converted it into multiple formats? Unfortunately, these situations do not absolve the person from being liable. As long as the target of the defamatory statement continues to suffer damages, they can still pursue a case against the instigator.
Was The Statement Made With The Intention Of Humour Or Insult?
There is a counter argument as to the validity of a defamation claim. This could be an exception if the intention was to be comedic rather than insulting.
Languages are ever-evolving. More than just a means of communication, they have become an avenue for people to express themselves in creative ways. Cultural slang and non-literal language, for example, have pervaded societies in many instances. Similarly, this type of casual language can also be gravely misinterpreted, causing issues to arise.
For example, if you’re frustrated with an airline service, you might use social media to air your grievances. But someone out there may take your joke too seriously, especially if it connotes a possible threat to life.
Therefore, for a statement to be defamatory, the Police or Courts will examine the facts and circumstances of each case. It’s up to the Courts to determine the seriousness or triviality of the situation.
Condition 2: The Victim Is The Clear Target Of Defamation Or Libel
If someone has referred to a victim by name by uploading a photo of them in a post intended to malign them, it also counts as defamatory. One can strengthen their case if third parties are also able to physically verify the victim’s identity on the malicious post.
Whether intentional or not, one must be responsible for what they put out on social media for the world to see. Baseless accusations or mistaken identities are not considered a defence against the tort of defamation.
Condition 3: The Statement Must Be Published, Or Be In Public Circulation
For online defamation, there should be evidence to support that someone has read the offending statement.
For example, someone has written about you on a Twitter or Facebook post. The presence of a viewing counter may help your case. This tells you that the upload has garnered hits and a third party group is already aware of it.
Building a defamation case does not necessarily rely on the number of people who have read the publication. However, the “audience size” is considered during damages. The damages are far greater with a larger audience than otherwise.
3. Defending Against A Defamation Lawsuit
There are three types of defences to a defamation tort:
- Fair comment
- Qualified privilege
For this type of defence to be successful, the maker of the statement should support the claim. They must be able to present facts or evidence that substantiates the statement or a claim.
In a Defence of Fair Comment, the maker must prove that the statement was merely an opinion grounded by facts. It should meet the following conditions:
- The statement was based on fact
- The statement is objective and unbiased
- The statement is within public interest
The defamation lawsuit is defeated if the defendant successfully uses one of these defences. The defendant may also absolve themselves of any liabilities through an “Offer of Amends”. This procedure allows the defendant to publicly apologise. They will also have to acknowledge that their statements were defamatory
If the victim has accepted the “Offer of Amends”, they can choose to stop pursuing the lawsuit. However, if the statement is still very damaging, the plaintiff may sue the defendant under a different tort.
4. Recourse In A Defamation Action
A successful defamation lawsuit will allow the Court to compensate the victim for damages and order an injunction against the defendant.
Monetary damages are awarded to the plaintiffs to ease the mental and emotional distress they’ve suffered while the defamatory material remains in circulation. Financial compensation also helps the victim rebuild their damaged reputation and make up for loss of income.
Against the defendant, the Court may issue either a prohibitory or interlocutory injunction. The former leads to a cessation of publishing defamatory material in the future. Meanwhile, interlocutory injunctions force the defendant to recant their statement/s.
5. What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Defamation?
If you believe you’re a victim of defamation, consider filing a Police report immediately. Provide sufficient evidence of the defamation. Strongly build your case. Gather materials that would lead the Police to investigate if there is an intentional act to tarnish your reputation.
Alternatively, with an assisting lawyer, you may file a civil action against the person who made the defamatory remarks. The case may be resolved through Court arbitration, mediation, or an out-of-Court settlement.
Conclusion About Defamation Law In Singapore
The Singapore Defamation Law criminalises those sentenced guilty of the act. While acts and laws against defamation were promulgated more than five decades ago, newer doctrines have arisen to address modern gaps in the law. Traditional grounds for defamation may not suffice in a time when social media is one of the largest platforms for information exchange. With this in mind, people should exercise prudence with what they say and consume online.
Have you been victimised by someone making defamatory comments about you? If you’re unable to protect yourself against the harm caused, consider seeking legal advice.
Our criminal lawyers here at The Singapore Lawyer can help you out. We can tailor fit legal advice and walk you through the litigation process. Contact us for a free 30-consultation or read more about our services here.
Frequently Asked Questions About Defamation Law In Singapore
Can I Sue Someone For Defamation In Singapore?
Yes. As defamation is determined to be a criminal offence under the Penal Code, Police can take a perpetrator into custody if there is sufficient admissible evidence.
How Do You Stop Someone From Defaming You?
If privately notifying the perpetrator will not be enough, you can seek legal action against them. You may also file a restraining order if the defamation escalates to harassment.
Learn more about how to protect yourself by calling The Singapore Lawyer. Get free legal consultation and expert recommendations from our lawyers.
What Is Spoken Defamation?
Spoken defamation is simply slander, not to be confused with libel, which refers to wrongful written statements that are digitally or physically transmitted. For example, if someone uploads a video of them spreading lies about you, that’s considered spoken defamation.
Meanwhile if someone has published an article with wrongful statements to damage your reputation, then this is considered libel. By this understanding, spoken defamation simply refers to slander.
Can A True Statement Be Considered Defamatory?
The Singapore Defamation law only considers a statement defamatory if it is, in fact, false. True statements or corroborated, factual information are not considered defamatory.