Plaintiff Awarded $25,000 for Facebook Defamation Posted on September 21, 2015 by Eleanor Smith The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld $25,000 in damages for a Facebook defamation case involving malicious intent. Defendant John Beckett, 61, never met Plaintiff Stephen Laughland, 57, but chose to target him because Beckett started dating Laughland’s ex-girlfriend. Fake Facebook Laughland, then an adjunct faculty member for Marquette University, received an anonymous e-mail in early 2010 threatening to expose his “financial recklessness.” Laughland alerted campus security, but later that year a friend brought a fake Facebook account to Laughland’s attention. The page featured Laughland’s full name and an actual profile picture of Laughland. The contents of the page were entirely negative, with posts purportedly by Laughland claiming to be corrupt, a “preying swindler,” a bank manipulator, and someone who owes a serious debt to society. “It was the ever-lovable Miss Placke in an attempt to impress her and an attempt to run down Mr. Laughland.” What originally appeared to be a disgruntled student harassing an adjunct faculty professor now appeared to be more. Laughland suspected his ex-girlfriend, Jean Placke, 50, was the account creator because the two were involved in a bitter custody battle at the time. Laughland hired an attorney who determined the account creator was Placke’s boyfriend, Beckett. Laughland filed a defamation suit against Beckett two years later, in 2012. Beckett argued Laughland was time-barred in filing and, in the alternative, that all of Beckett’s statements were true. Beckett claimed the financial information he referred to was part of the public foreclosure and bankruptcy records and substantially truthful. Beckett testified he was protecting other consumers from financial harm wrought by Laughland and had never even told girlfriend Placke about the creation of the account. The appeals court did not buy these excuses. See Also: Parents Liable for Son’s Facebook Page that Bullied Classmate and Florida Court Finds No Expectation of Privacy on Facebook Real Injury Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley explained the “real corker” of the case in his opinion by saying, “There was one and only one motivation for this. I guess you can break it down into two. It was the ever-lovable Miss Placke in an attempt to impress her and an attempt to run down, in her eyes, Mr. Laughland. You put all of that together and you’ve got the ill will, you’ve got the malice, you’ve got the defamatory statements.” Defamation generally includes the following elements: The Statement, whether spoken, written, or otherwise expressed, Publication, Injury, Falsity, and The statement must be unprivileged. Affirming damages Judge Foley awarded Laughland $10,000 in punitive damages and $15,000 in general damages. On Beckett’s appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court, affirming the damages amount. The appeals court ruled the financial comments about Laughland were based on mere speculation about the meaning of bankruptcy. Beckett and the Court of Appeals were referring to several collections actions banks filed against Laughland. At the end of August, Beckett had still not satisfied the judgment. Laughland is now an executive in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar School of Business. As FindLaw points out, there is a fine line between free speech and the right to protect one’s reputation. Social media’s popularity creates more opportunities to defamation . . . and defamation lawsuits. “Whether it’s a disparaging blog post, Facebook status update, or YouTube video, online defamation is treated the same way as more traditional forms . . . You can be sued for any defamatory statements you post online.” The case is Laughland v. Beckett, Appeal No. 2014AP2393 in the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District I.